While Muslims and people of colour are no doubt tired of middle-class white men writing about Islamophobia and racism, I feel it is an important issue to cover in my first post. The reason for this is that Islamophobia, and racism in general, has become so commonplace and normalised in British society that the former Foreign Secretary can refer to women wearing the burka as looking like ‘letterboxes’ and that those wearing them resemble ‘bank robbers’, with little outcry from the mainstream media (MSM). Just imagine, if a Labour MP had made a similar remark about Jewish dress. They would be suspended immediately and the MSM would quite rightly hammer them for days, while the Tories would call for an antisemitism enquiry into the Labour party. Instead, party chairman Brandon Lewis has meekly called for an apology, which Johnson has refused to give. While he is now being investigated by the Tories, I do not think anyone truly believes they will take meaningful action. If Theresa May was truly strong, stable and committed to stamping out the toxic reputation of their party as being full of bigots, then she would withdraw the whip and he would be expelled after due process. Instead, he will continue unchecked. No suspension, no wall to wall press coverage. In fact, some Tories, such as Nadine Dorries and Andrew Bridgen have even defended his claims, saying that there is nothing wrong with the remarks. Instead of downplaying or justifying Johnson’s comments, people should be viewing him for what he is, a dangerous, and racist operator.
For those that would argue that this has been blown out of proportion as Bridgen argues, it is worth taking a closer look at what Johnson said. Firstly, he called burka-wearers a ‘letterboxes’. Not only is this comparison intended to mock Muslim women who wear burkas, but it is comparing Muslims to something that is not human, that does not have feelings and can therefore be abused as much as one wants. The dehumanisation of minority groups is not a new tactic by the far right, but it is nevertheless a potent one. The second comparison he made is that burka-wearers look like bank robbers. This one is more obvious as it is clearly designed to create an association in the minds of the public between Muslims and criminals; that Muslims are to be avoided and feared. While this may appear fanciful and an overreaction, one only has to look at the people defending Johnson’s actions to see the effect it can have. Furthermore, in the last few days a woman wearing a burka was urinated on by a group of men. This is the impact words by those in Johnson’s position can have. When those in power legitimise hate it has a real and discernible impact. Johnson’s words were a targeted attack upon Muslims, designed to incite fear and hatred towards the community. He did not mention the numerous religious garbs that involve face coverings, be it Jewish, Christian or any other. It was Muslims he was after, no one else.
Arguably, one could compare Johnson’s intentions to those highlighted by the sociologist Stuart Hall in his 1970s study ‘Policing the Crisis’. Hall showed how the government and media scapegoated young black men by associating them with mugging allowing them to increase their own power. This is very similar to what Johnson is doing. He is very intentionally creating the impression that Muslims are a community to be suspicious of, that people should be wary of them and treat them differently. In doing so he increases his own profile, much as Enoch Powell did in his infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech, while also creating an ‘other’ in society in the form of the Muslim community. This is a view that the media cannot give a platform to. It is beliefs like this that must be stamped out because if they are allowed to burn they will blaze out of control. The only difference between Johnson’s views and those like Tommy Robinson is that Johnson has a funny voice, a stupid haircut and went to Eton and Oxford. Regardless of class or the platform you express them on, these views are disgusting, dangerous and discriminatory, a bit like Johnson himself.
The other problem is that Johnson and his views are accepted by the Tories. They refuse to act against something unless it is a vote loser or if it could weaken their power in any way. For power is all that occupies their ideologies and ambitions. How they obtain and maintain it is not important, only that they have it. One only has to google ‘Boris Johnson racism’ to discover a plethora of results from multiple eras of the his life. These ‘gaffes’ as the media call them, or ‘horrific racism’ if you are working class. Take his belief that the Queen loves touring the Commonwealth as she is met by ‘flag-waving piccaninnies’ and that Tony Blair was met by ‘watermelon smiles’. These racist comments were made in a Telegraph column in 2002, just as his burka comments were aired by the MSM. Not only do the media not challenge his racism, they actively encourage him by giving him a platform to spew his bile. It could be argued that Johnson had made these in his youth, after all he was only 38 at the time. However, he has continued to make comments of the same ilk throughout his life. This can be seen in his response to then President of the United States, Barack Obama, stating that he believed Britain should remain in the EU. Johnson argued that Obama made his comments because he is ‘part-Kenyan’ and is therefore fuelled by an ‘ancestral dislike’ of Britain. This is racist as it assumes that everyone connected to colonial oppression must dislike Britain because of the actions of the Empire and that this fuels their every criticism. Not only is this an example of the lazy racism that can come with Johnson’s upper-class white privilege, but it completely alienates those of African or Asian descent that reside in Britain as it implies that they automatically hate Britain. Through this Johnson is creating the impression that those who are descendants of immigrants from the Empire hate Britain and are therefore worthy of hate themselves. He is implying that they are outsiders, separate from mainstream British society. For that is potentially why Johnson makes comments such as these. He believes that immigrants and foreigners, or anyone who does not share his privileged white upbringing is worthy of disdain.
Potentially the worst bit about Johnson is the legitimisation his views are given by the media and the Conservative party itself. BBC Newsbeat describe Johnson, ironically in an article on his racism, as ‘an undeniably clever man’. In doing this they justify his racism as he is intelligent so imply that there must be some truth or reason to his comments. They are wrong. Johnson says what he says because he believes them to be true. He believes that these minority groups do not deserve to be treat the same way as him, that they are deserving of mockery and abuse. This is added to by the Tories allowing him to speak from their platform, first as a prominent member, then as London Mayor, then as Foreign Secretary and finally as an MP. By allowing him to be an accepted part of their party they are saying his views are not only acceptable, but in line with the views of the party. He is a prominent ambassador for the Tories and therefore speaks for them until they withdraw the whip.
The mission for the left, and those with a shred of decency must be to fight Johnson’s beliefs, for his views cannot be allowed to become commonplace. If they do, the consequences will both monumental and potentially irreversible. He is not a gaffe prone and harmless clown, he is deliberate and dangerous. It is not Islam we should be wary of, it is Boris Johnson and his racist rhetoric.