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11 august 2018, we DON’T need to talk about boris

Saturday, August 11th, 2018

For those that don't already know, I am living in muscat at the moment, where around half of the population are expats, who walk around in shorts, t-shirts and pretty much whatever. Half are omanis, a traditional people where the men wear a distinctive hat and long white dishdasha and women cover their heads, mainly with an open-face hijab, not-unusually with the full niqab (see we will fight them on the beaches, 27 august 2016). I smile and talk to everyone, every day, whatever they wear. It takes a little cultural recalibration, but is entirely easy. I do recall the first time I saw someone in a niqab, which can be quite a strange and intimating sight to a westerner. It was summer in geneva, working at the united nation's palais des nations. They were visiting saudis, walking along the promenade and it reminded me of nothing so much as the orthodox jewish area I grew up near where even in the heights of summer the women wear their heavy wigs on shaven heads, the men their top-to-toe black raincoats and fur-lined black hats. Though not as many as in muscat, manchester clearly now has more hijabs and niqabs alongside its still-growing orthodox jews, to which I can only say how wonderful to see greater cultural diversity and more people coming to visit, work and live in global britain. Like carly simon I've nearly managed to write without reference to the grand poobah who spectacularly achieved the aim of his telegraph column last week and has everyone talking about boris by taking a leaf straight from the trump playbook and acting as a lightning rod for an issue that divides rather than unites and everyone can have an emotional response to. I am pure voltaire on this, disagreeing with what he said but defending his right to say it. It was purile, sensationalist, offensive and entirely self-promoting. It was also evidently successful and in the utter wilderness that is british political leadership probably did his prospects no harm. To quote the organ-grinder: sad.