Why is the Telegraph arguing with Muslim women over Boris Johnson’s ‘racist remarks’?

British PM Boris Johnson/ Muslim woman in niqab with her son
Support us and go ad-free

Earlier this week, MP Tanmanjeet Dhesi stood up in parliament and asked the PM to apologise for his racist comments on Muslim women. The video of his impassioned speech has gone viral.

Dhesi’s demand came in response to the news that hate crimes against Muslim women went up 375% following the PM’s remarks. He said in his speech (0:21):

For those of us who from a young age have had to endure and face up to being called names such as towelhead or Taliban… we can appreciate full well the hurt and pain felt by already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letterboxes. So rather than hide behind sham and whitewash investigations, when will the prime minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks… which have led to a spike in hate crime?

The Telegraph responds

Who should come to Johnson’s defence, however, but the good people at the Telegraph themselves? After all, this is the same outlet that published Johnson’s inflammatory op-ed in the first place. For them, apparently an astronomical spike in hate crime against Muslim women is not enough to describe Johnson’s comments as ‘racist’. Turning Dhesi’s demand into a partisan criticism of Labour, the outlet said on Twitter:

That the Telegraph feels entitled to tell Muslim women what is and isn’t racist is unsurprising. Unfortunately, the British mainstream media denying and questioning Muslim women’s lived experiences is nothing new.

When Boris Johnson first made his remarks about the burka in August 2018, I described them as “boldfaced hate”.  As misogynistic and racist. In light of the news that Johnson’s words led to a spike in hate crime against Muslim women, it’s important to reflect on their implications. Because he isn’t merely an accidental racist, but someone who knows that attacking a marginalised group will strengthen his fan base:

Being referred to as ‘oppressed’, ‘ridiculous’, a ‘bank robber’, or a ‘letterbox’ is not merely offensive; it is traumatising and humiliating. And to humiliate a group of minority women in this way is a calculated move which sends a message to Johnson’s right-wing followers, making it clear whose side he’s on.

Defending Muslim women

With popular opinion appearing to move increasingly towards the right, defending marginalised groups is an unpopular position. It doesn’t win votes and it doesn’t guarantee seats in parliament. Because these marginalised groups don’t have the numbers to help you win an election. Politicians like Dhesi standing up for Muslim women is therefore a commendable act. Doing so doesn’t serve their careers, but it does demonstrate their integrity and commitment to serving the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in society:

Boris Johnson’s comments are not exceptional, but among a long list of similar Islamophobic comments from Conservative politicians. For anyone who has been on the receiving end of their bigotry, we need to examine the alternatives and make an informed choice at the next general election, whenever it happens.

Featured image via YouTube – The Sun/ Wikimedia – Fabbio, licensed under CC BY-SA-2.0, cropped to 403 pixels high

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us
  • Show Comments
    1. Let’s set aside emotion and look dispassionately upon Johnson’s remarks.

      The author’s assertion quoted below opens a can of worms.

      “That the Telegraph feels entitled to tell Muslim women what is and isn’t racist is unsurprising.”

      “Racist” and “racism” (similarly antisemitism related words too) by thoughtless overuse risk losing their imputation of something truly nasty. Who is entitled to decide utterances are ‘racist’? As with all other words the answer must be everybody and nobody. The best arbiter of word usage is a dictionary widely accepted as accurately documenting etymology and current usages. That is the court of appeal for the educated. As for the rest, language remains more fluid, sometimes to the point of absurdity and contradiction, and quasi-stable usages eventually may emerge which merit mention, possibly formal adoption, in authoritative dictionaries.

      Johnson’s utterances may better be described tactless, disparaging, and not amusing (perhaps with exception for the letterbox analogy which in a sensible world would be regarded as merely poking fun).

      Moreover, no group, ‘race’, culture, religion, and these days so-called ‘gender’, ought be placed upon a pedestal putting it beyond reach of criticism, pointing out absurdities, and poking gentle fun.

      Johnson is a ‘Bullingdon Club’ oaf. His arrogance and sense of entitlement are palpable. He hides his core of selfishness and nastiness behind a façade of shallow ‘cocktail party’ wit. He is prone to utterance before what passes as his intellect has opportunity to intervene. He is an unpleasant individual and now in position to be a dangerous one. Chucking around accusation of ‘racism’, and other ‘…isms’ too, distracts from his deep mendacity, stupidity in public office, bullying nature, alley-cat morality, and pretence at charisma. Call him what you will, pile on deserved ridicule, but only exposure of his intentions and actions can destroy him.


      Released under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international license (sic).

    Leave a Reply

    Join the conversation

    Please read our comment moderation policy here.