Since the former foreign secretary likened women in niqabs to ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’, there has been an increase in reports of anti-Muslim abuse. How does it feel to be victimised because of your dress?
‘Oh, there goes a letterbox.’ On Saturday, while Sidrah Sajad was out shopping in Manchester, where she lives, she heard a man – middle-aged, white – say this to a companion as she walked past. “I turned around and said: ‘Excuse me,’ and they just walked off,” she says. She was in a rush that day, but usually – because abuse happens fairly regularly – she likes to confront it. “I’m the sort of person who will engage. If someone is saying such negative comments, I like to approach them and give them the opportunity to talk to me, say: ‘Why would you say something like that?’” How did she feel? She sighs. “You know what, it’s ignorance. That person is not educated. Part of British values is trying to respect and embrace the norms of all the faiths. Even if we don’t understand it, we honour common ground. Every individual has a choice to live their life the way they want to, and we should respect that.”
It is just over a week since the former foreign secretary Boris Johnson likened women who wear the niqab – the face veil – to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” in a column for the Daily Telegraph. Johnson said he was against a ban but his comments, whether throwaway or carefully calculated – including that the burqa and niqab were “odd” and “oppressive” – have had real-life consequences for many British Muslims. Women have spoken of feeling vulnerable, and some have been abused. The anti-Muslim hate-crime monitoring group Tell Mama has reported a spike in abuse against Muslim women since Johnson’s column appeared. In the week before the column was published, five women reported incidents against them (all were wearing the hijab, and none wore the niqab). In the week after the column, 14 women wearing the hijab and seven who wore the niqab reported abuse to the organisation.
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