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
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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

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  • 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).

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