That Boris can be so publicly mauled for defending Muslim women’s rights while also criticising certain Islamic views shows how chilled and unforgiving the public discussion of this religion has become.
It also points to a profound confusion about freedom and tolerance among the modern commentariat. They seem to think that society doesn’t only have a responsibility to guarantee freedom of belief to its citizens, but also that it must respect what its citizens believe. This is utterly wrong. In a free society, people must have the right to adhere to whatever religious or moral convictions they consider best, but the rest of us must have the right to criticise and even ridicule those convictions. That is freedom in action.
What Boris’s shrill detractors are really demanding is that he respect everything about Islam. That he be unquestioning towards this religion. That he celebrate it and love it, unconditionally. But why should he? His responsibility, as a politician, is to never interfere with people’s religious freedom; he doesn’t have to like people’s religious beliefs.
The attacks on Boris are a reactionary, illiberal assault on his right to be critical of certain aspects of religious ideology. People are not demanding that he support freedom of religion, because it is clear from his column that he already does. Rather, they are demanding that he bow and scrape before Islamic values and never criticise them again. This is a medieval demand, a war on heresy, dressed up as a progressive critique.
It's interesting that none of the three leading Guardian Comment is Free pieces on this latest supposed outrage -Baroness Warsi: Boris Johnson’s contempt for Muslim women is part of a dangerous pattern...Jonathan Freedland: May must learn from Labour mistakes and stamp out Tory Islamophobia...Hashim Bhatti: I’m a Tory councillor. Islamophobia in my party goes beyond Boris Johnson - actually allow any comments. This is not a subject for discussion.
Cynically, it's not difficult to see this as an eagerly-seized opportunity to counter the Labour antisemitism farrago with a bit of manufactured outrage about Tory "Islamophobia".