Boris Johnson seems to have forged a career out of saying the unsayable. Recently, the former foreign secretary upset people by suggesting that Muslim women who wear a face veil resemble “bank robbers” and “letter boxes”, prompting demands even from fellow Conservatives for him to apologise. Yet Johnson’s supporters rapidly presented him as some kind of free speech martyr. “Boris is offering himself in sacrifice on the altar of freedom of speech,” proclaimed the MP Andrea Jenkyns, without irony. The comedian Rowan Atkinson, now sadly fully transformed from Blackadder to Johnny English, came to the battlements to defend the “freedom to make jokes about religion”. Even the Conservative commentator Matthew Parris, who has described Johnson as “creeping ambition in a jester’s cap”, wrote of his discomfort about “the language of censorship” in the critical reaction to the former cabinet minister’s words. “There’s a broader feeling in society that there are certain issues that are verboten, off-limits, you can’t discuss,” Claire Fox, a regular panel member on the BBC’s Moral Maze, told Newsnight viewers in a discussion about the furore. * * * Such claims have become routine. The view that “freedom of speech” is under threat has, in recent years, become one of… Read full this story
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