Hasta la pasta, baby ...

Clive James commented that, when writing, he likes to "turn a phrase until it catches the light".

The Worzel Gummidge of British politics, Boris Johnson, on the other hand, likes to turn as many phrases as possible on the off-chance one of them catches someone's attention — preferably the press's.

He rotisseried another winner recently by commenting that burqa-wearing Muslim women looked like walking letterboxes, and — for good measure — bank robbers. (Although, more accurately, his reference was more to the niqab or face veil.)

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Having resumed writing for the Daily Telegraph following his resignation as Foreign Secretary, Boris made the remark as part of a general piece on the banning of face-concealing garments in public places for security reasons.

Koran scholars say that the Muslim holy book doesn't actually mandate the wearing of coverall female garments, but simply invokes "modesty" in female dress and general appearance. So the argument that it's a religious issue is relative. It seems to be more of a cultural practice that has gathered momentum in recent times — albeit of a culture deeply rooted in religion.

Coercion excepted, that is perfectly in order, although public security issues remain genuine. Most religions are moveable feasts whose rites and rituals frequently migrate to and fro through the permeable membrane of church dogma in response to changing circumstances and social mores.

It's ironic, though, that the one feature the niqab leaves exposed is the eyes. If — as some assert — the eyes are the windows to the soul, then the niqab not only exposes but also concentrates attention on the most intimate body part of all. Maybe a pair of wrap-arounds are needed to complete the ensemble, although the full burqa's eye-veil prevents peeping at the peepers.

However, Boris himself stopped short of calling for a face-veil ban such as Denmark recently instituted. He maintained that, while his argument was simply about pragmatic social and commercial needs for facial recognition, instituting outright bans is always going to be interpreted as Islamophobia. Be that as it may, a bevy of European countries — including France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, as well as even Canada — have enacted various prohibitions.

But worryingly, one of those countries to impose a face-cover ban has further ratcheted up state interference in "religious" freedoms. The Netherlands has refused to recognise the ancient — well, all of 13 years old — and widely revered practice of Pastafarianism as a bona fide religion. This means that adherents of the true-faith Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster are, in Holland, unable to wear their traditional religious headware — namely, the humble spaghetti colander — in official identity photographs.

Frank Greenall
Frank Greenall

Dutch law allows the head to be partially covered for identity photos, but only for "genuine" religious reasons. Draconianly, then, a Dutch judge has declared himself the ultimate arbiter of the bona fides of citizens' spiritual beliefs. Haven't we fought a couple of world wars in that neck of the woods ostensibly to support such individual basic freedoms epitomised by Pastafarian doctrine?

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For pizza's sake, even Russian Pastafarian Andrei Filin won the right to pose for his driver's licence photo wearing his knitted pasta strainer. And at least Enzed is half-pie keeping up by allowing Björn Oback — his customary colander jauntily atop — to swear his NZ citizen's oath of affirmation on the Pastafarian official holy text, the Map of Treasures, in Hamilton last December.

Weird? Some Vanuatuans hold a full-blown religious festival on Prince Phillip's birthday in honour of his revered status as the son of a sacred earth spirit.

Flying Spaghetti Monster devotees reject "crazy nonsense", while enjoying life, being nice to all, and feasting on pasta. The church is "very strongly supportive of anything that improves the well-being of sentient beings", and have "some really nice people and the only God without genitals".

Rigatoni, anyone…?