In the last month several Iranian women have been sentenced to long years of imprisonment in the country’s harsh jails for the crime of removing the burka in public. Wearing a garment that covers most of the body and head is mandatory in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Demonstrations by women against this and similar rules have been spreading in both countries and have subsequently been broadcast on Twitter, YouTube and other social media. It’s a movement of great cultural significance, and the women who lead it meet street attacks as well as official punishments. They are extraordinarily heroic.
Yet if you type the single word burka into Google, the first three visual stories that pop up are all related to the recent article by Boris Johnson in the London Daily Telegraph in which he criticised the burka as resembling a “letterbox”. If you then type in both burka and Boris, no fewer than 13 million links to stories involving both words then appear. If you have a morbid curiosity to find out about the rebellion of Iranian women against wearing the burka, however, Google will link you to 5 million stories—a solid number but only just over a third of the number involving Boris.
To be fair, the Boris column generated a lot of secondary stories. There were attacks on him by Prime Minister Theresa May, by the chairman of the Tory party, Brandon Lewis, by “Muslim community leaders” and their “spokesmen” (denouncing his descent into Islamophobia), by various Tory MPs from the party’s Remainer faction (two of whom threatened to leave the party if he ever became its leader), by columnists from several newspapers, notably the Guardian, and even from faraway New York by the US news program the Daily Show, which issued one of its standard solemn moral reproofs in “satirical” disguise.
In short, Boris was better covered than the wives of the average Saudi prince or Iranian ayatollah.
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