Brian Walker is a devoted Scout master that has spent decades teaching children how to canoe and climb hills, pitch tents, build fires, and cook bangers.
Last year, however, he says that he was thrown out like ‘an old slipper’.
Well, what did he do to deserve the summary expulsion?
In an outburst that may be considered incendiary, this British Canoe Union instructor had dared to suggest that a fellow leader, which happened to be a Muslim woman, might endanger the children by taking them out on the water in her niqab face veil.
The questions that he, and many other people are:
‘How could she jump in to rescue a Scout in difficulty?’ ‘How could she navigate her own canoe properly beneath her veil?’ ‘How could she be sure her instructions were being seen and heard?’
Mr. Walker went on to say that Zainab Kothdiwala, the respected head of a thriving all-girl Scout park looked like Darth Wader, and he added that doing adventure sports in a full-face veil would be incongruous enough to ‘scare children and animals’.
Mr. Walker, 63, is clearly a man with robust opinions, a trait he shares with former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who compared women in burkas to ‘bank robbers’ and said that they looked ‘like letter boxes’. The Scout Association declared Mr. Wilson to be in breach of its diversity and equality rules.
He was dismissed from his post as assistant leader of an Explorer Scout pack by a letter which stated that his views ‘do not fit within the Equal Opportunities Policy’ and the Scout values of ‘respect, integrity, care, and belief’.
He was also forbidden from wearing his badges and uniform or having anything to do with children and Scout Association paperwork.
18 months later, however, he has won an unexpected reprieve.
While a county court judge was preparing to rule on the row, the association capitulated and paid him the damages and costs. He decided to donate the cheque to charity. The Scout Association, however, will not apologize and has publicly said that it still doesn’t approve of his comments.
Mr. Walker’s story once again raises the impossible question of what is the fault line between civilized opinion and unacceptable prejudice.
He says that the whole experience has left him feeling bruised and sad about the direction the Scouts are heading:
“This was never, ever a personal attack. The very fact that this woman is a Scout leader means she shares my values, my belief in volunteering and giving something back society. But her outfit says a lot more about Islam than it does about scouting.
You can’t go abseiling in a niqab, I’m not sure about hiking and I don’t agree with canoeing.
She’s at risk of drowning herself, not to mention the fact that it compromises her ability to keep Scouts safe.
The movement is about to implode under the weight of its own dogma and absurdity. I took a stand for freedom of thought and freedom of speech.”
Mr. Walker has been in 21 SAS, the territorial branch of the Special Air Service, and the RAF Auxiliary. He was a reservist military medic and army engineer when he lived in Australia for 15 years, and to mark his 60th birthday, he spent two weeks and £3,000 of his own money (a significant sum to him as he is an electrician by trade) in Uganda to build an orphanage.
Mrs. Kothdiwala has retained a dignified silence throughout the controversy. She describes herself as bossy and adventurous, and she made a powerful defense of her choice to be veiled when speaking to a magazine called ‘Scouting’:
“I am who I am with or without the veil. It’s not a barrier, it doesn’t stop me from doing anything.”