Iain Duncan Smith Defends Boris Johnson’s ‘Freedom Of Speech’ Over Burkas Row

But numerous leading Muslim figures have condemned the former foreign secretary’s “joke”

By Rachel Wearmouth

PA ARCHIVE/PA IMAGES
Iain Duncan Smith has defended fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has defended Boris Johnson after he compared women in burkas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

Fellow Brexiteer Duncan Smith said there was not anything “particularly wrong” with comments the ex-foreign secretary, who faces an investigation by the Conservative Party, made about Muslim women in a Sunday Telegraph article.

He said people “may not agree with the tone or the jokes” made in the article, but that Johnson was exercise his “freedom of speech” and was defending the government line not to ban the burka, as Denmark has done.

Numerous leading Muslim figures, including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, have condemned Johnson’s use of language.

One hundred Muslim women who wear a burka or niqab have written to Tory chairman Brandon Lewis to demand Boris Johnson be thrown out of the Conservative Party.

But Duncan Smith said: “We have a thing called freedom of speech in this country and I don’t believe that just because somebody takes offence that means therefore that there has to be an inquiry in terms of whether or not that individual should be shut down for saying what they believe.”

He added that those who “believe strongly in equality for women “take a very different view” on burkas, adding: “Most Muslim women don’t wear one and as I understand it that is their choice, and that’s what I uphold, their choice.”

PA WIRE/PA IMAGES
Theresa May has backed calls for Boris Johnson to apologise

Johnson was urged to apologise by both Lewis and Prime Minister Theresa May, and after several complaints were submitted to the party, an internal investigation will now take place.

Image result for burkas
Denmark has ridiculed itself by banning burkas, activist tells Euronews

“We live in a land that has freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of choice and if you want to uphold those there will always be those that take offence,” Duncan Smith told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

The letter signed by 100 women said Johnson made a “deliberate choice” to inflame tensions, which could pave the way for “bigots to justify hate crime”.

Speaking as “free women who are able to speak for ourselves”, the group warns “all personal choices should be respected”, adding that an apology from Johnson would be “insufficient”.

According to the party’s code of conduct, members should not use their position to “bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others”, with the prospect of suspension or expulsion for those found to be in breach.

Women Drivers Take to the Road in Saudi Arabia as Ban Lifted

View image on Twitter
Saudi women are in the driver’s seat for the first time in their country and steering their way through busy city streets just minutes after the world’s last remaining ban on women driving was lifted.

It’s a euphoric and historic moment for women who have had to rely on their husbands, fathers, brothers, and drivers to run basic errands, get to work, visit friends, or even drop kids off at school. The ban had relegated women to the backseat, unable to determine for themselves when and how to move around.

But after midnight, Saudi women finally joined women around the world in being able to get behind the wheel of a car and simply drive.

Photos and video of women driving in Saudi Arabia began circulating on social media.

View image on Twitter
View image on Twitter

Lindsey Hilsum

@lindseyhilsum

With the kids in the back – great to see women driving in Saudi. But not to forget that several of those who campaigned for this remain in prison.

Businesswoman Hind Alzahid told Arab News, “It’s our moment,’ after the ban was lifted.

 For nearly three decades, Saudi women and the men who support them have been calling for women to have the right to drive. The few women who tried to drive in past years faced arrest for defying the ban as women in other Muslim countries drove freely. Ultraconservatives had long warned that allowing women to drive would lead to sin and expose women to harassment.

Criticism has since been muted after King Salman announced last year that women would be allowed to drive. Many now say they support the decision and see it as long overdue.

“I will get my driver’s license, but I won’t drive because I have a driver. I am going to leave it for an emergency. It is one of my rights and I will keep it in my purse,” said 60-year-old Lulwa al-Fireiji, who attended a government-sponsored event encouraging women to drive.

The overwhelming majority of women in Saudi Arabia still don’t have licenses. Many haven’t had a chance to take the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered to women only three months ago.

Others already own cars driven by chauffeurs and are in no rush to drive themselves. In many cases, women say they’ll wait before rushing to drive to see how the situation on the streets pans out and how male drivers react.

While some quietly oppose the decision, there are men who are openly embracing the greater rights being granted to Saudi women.

“I see that this decision will make women equal to men and this will show us that women are capable of doing anything a man can do,” said Fawaz al-Harbi. “I am very supportive and in fact I have been waiting for this decision so that my mother, my sisters will drive.”

A video purportedly showing Saudi Arabian officials issuing a driver’s license to a woman was posted to Twitter June 4.

 Mohammed al-Bassami, the General Department of Traffic Director, announced on May 8 that women will be able to step behind the wheel on June 24. Authorities delayed the start date to ensure women had ample time to complete driving lessons.

Russian civilians helping Assad use military base back home – witnesses

 

russia
A still image from a video footage shows a bus transferring Russian private military contractors leaving an airport outside Rostov-on-Don

The Kremlin says it has nothing to do with Russian civilians fighting in Syria but on three recent occasions groups of men flying in from Damascus headed straight to a defense ministry base in Molkino, Reuters reporters witnessed.
Molkino in southwestern Russia is where the Russian 10th Special Forces Brigade is based, according to information on the Kremlin website.
The destination of the Russians arriving from Syria provides rare evidence of a covert Russian mission in Syria beyond the air strikes, training of Syrian forces and small numbers of special forces troops acknowledged by Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Feb. 14 Russians may be in Syria but “they are not part of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”. He referred Reuters to the defense ministry when asked why civilians fighting in Syria return to a military base. The ministry did not immediately respond.
A duty officer at the 10th special forces brigade, asked why non-military people were entering the military base, said: “Nobody enters it, as far as I am aware … You’ve seen them, okay. But you should not believe everything … You can maybe. But how can we comment on what other organizations do?”
More than 2,000 Russian contractors are fighting to help Syrian forces recapture land from their opponents, several sources, including one contractor, have said.
The contractors are transferred by Syrian airline Cham Wings, the sources said.
Reuters reporters saw a Syrian Cham Wings charter flight from Damascus land at the civilian airport in Rostov-on-Don on April 17 and watched groups of men leave the terminal through an exit separate from the one used by ordinary passengers.
They boarded three buses, which took them to an area mainly used by airport staff. A luggage carrier brought numerous oversized bags and the men, dressed in civilian clothes, got off the buses, loaded the bags and got back on.
The three buses then left the airport in convoy and headed south; two made stops near cafes along the way and one on the roadside. All three reached the village of Molkino, 350 km (220 miles) south, shortly before midnight.