Of Boris and of Banning the Burkas

The following represents the personal view of the NCF Secretary General and does not necessarily represent an NCF position:

There are two issues here. One is that the full face covering is a Mediaeval practice and one that is abusive in so much as it enshrines the doctrine of male dominance over the female. In a sense it degrades women.

It may be right to speak out against this practice.

However, even the birds of the air have need of nests. And whatever the rights and wrongs of that great cultural leveler, migration, one thing is certain, we are responsible for welcoming the migrant that arrives at these shores in a way which does not foster prejudice and hatred. Britain’s former Foreign Secretary’s remarks were calculated. They were written by Boris Johnson in a newspaper editorial. They are abusive of women in themselves, comparing those who practice full face veiling to pillar boxes with slits. Furthermore his manner provokes those already inflamed with Islamophobia (often exacerbated by but not because of the recent terror attacks) into further hatred. The former Foreign Secretary behaved as a racist. The sentiment behind his words, a concern about what the full face veil represents, may echo genuine concern for those women who choose, sometimes of their own volition, to do this to themselves. But he had no right to say that in that way. Not a man who may become our next Prime Minister.

Two wrongs do not make a right. Boris Johnson was therefore quite wrong. He should apologise. And if it was not his intention to foster religious hatred, he should apologise at least for the unwitting effect his remarks had.

Christ told us not to judge “Lest we be judged”. But there is an expectation that politicians in a position of leadership make considered judgements on our behalf. Boris’ remarks were unwise. Boris’ remarks can hardly have helped in these difficult times.

We should do better. But should we ban the burka and the headscarf like they do in France and Finland? Well maybe there is an argument for banning the hoody in young men and the burka in women because they are socially divisive and threatening. But not the headscarf. The French have gone overboard there. Women in the West have worn headscarves for generations as a fashion statement. And old fashioned European Catholics have always worn headscarves. The Muslim headscarf may be more concealing but is still just a cultural extension of the same thing and we should all find it in our hearts to accept it.

Is Tanzania’s ‘Bulldozer’ a threat to Democracy?

In November 2015, John Magufuli assumed office as the President of Tanzania, perpetuating the dominance of the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party who have been in power since the 1970s. At the time of his election most considered Magufuli to be representative of political continuity within Tanzania. Now, almost three years later, it is clear that Magufuli has disrupted the status quo.

The President has come to be known as ‘the Bulldozer’ for his unapologetic approach to tackling corruption and curtailing excessive spending within government. He gained this reputation right at the beginning of his presidency when he cancelled the usual opulent Independence Day celebrations. Instead, that money was redirected towards street cleaning. In the same way, he doubled down on excessive expenditure on ceremonies, meetings and travel of government officials and civil servants. He ensured that everyone was aware that being a government official was not synonymous with luxury or privilege and that fraud and corruption were not to be tolerated. This was achieved by tough measures and the dramatic firing of many civil servants. It has been reported that in his first three months as President, Magufuli fired an average of one civil servant a day.

‘The Bulldozer’ has shown his toughness in industry and economics too. He has drawn a hard-line by protecting and taking ownership of Tanzania’s resources. Most recently, a 24 kilometre wall with one secure entrance was erected around the tanzanite mines near Mount Kilimanjaro as a way to stop the smuggling of this precious stone. This is just one of Magufuli’s moves to regulate mining. He has gone head-to-head with foreign mining companies with the goal of gaining maximum profit from national resources. Magafuli’s main aims have been to improve efficiency across the board in Tanzania, to harness the nation’s wealth and to do so for the betterment of the country. He has enjoyed popularity and praise as a result of his hard-line response to these issues and many see this as a promising signal for a fairer and more prosperous future. The tough stance he has taken on issues such as corruption and excess has been applauded both by Tanzanians and the international community.

However, criticism has definitely been expressed by some, especially those who see his policies and conduct as aggressive. Most notably, Magufuli’s stance on democracy cannot be ignored, indeed it is in need of serious attention. He has stifled freedoms of expression. Those who have expressed political opposition or criticism have been subject to harassment, arrest and detention. Tundu Lissu, the leader of the opposition party and an open critic of Magufuli, was severely injured after being attacked in September of 2017. Opposition parties have been banned from holding public meetings and rallies. Both the press and the broadcast media have also been subject to the same threat. News outlets have been shut down for lengthy periods of time, journalists have been arrested and several have been reported missing.

This increased control over the public domain and freedoms of the people has been formalised. A new law signed in March 2018, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, now demands an astronomic fee of over $900 for those wishing to publish online content in Tanzania. This includes bloggers, as well as those operating online radio and television services and impacts regular users of online domains and social media. Content considered to ‘cause annoyance’ or ‘public disorder’ will result in the revoking of these $900 licences. This is not just applicable to political topics; Diamond Platnumz, one of Tanzania’s most famous singers, was recently arrested for posting a video of him kissing a woman. He subsequently issued a public apology for such content. Freedoms within the public and private spheres are deteriorating in Tanzania and it is important that this is not ignored. These new constraints on democracy are dangerous and the rights of the Tanzanian people need to be upheld and respected.