Image via Think London
The first time I heard about what Britain’s ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson had written about Muslim women in a column for the Daily Telegraph I rolled my eyes. The second time I read his comments I felt angry. I’m still angry, but not so much at Boris himself, who has proven himself to be a shameless racist and more than willing to leave ethics at the door if it brings him closer to becoming Prime Minister. I’m also not surprised at the members of the Conservative party, who yet again relied on Baroness Sayeeda Warsi to call out Johnson’s blatant Islamophobia. I’m mainly angry at people who say that women can wear what they want….as long as it’s not a hijab or niqab.
Boris Johnson has been called everything from a posh Tommy Robinson to a pound shop Donald Trump. In reality, he is something more sinister: a man who chooses his political opinions as he picks his clothes; selecting whatever suits him best on any given day. Johnson is routinely makes racist comments, but so often there is no bass in his voice.
“Most feminists stay silent when it comes to issues around the burka”
In my experience, the worst thing about being picked on and bullied is when people watch it happen and don’t come to your defence. I’m not a Muslim but when I read Boris Johnson’s comments about Muslim women I remembered all of the times a politician had said something about me or my family and made me feel like crap.
One of my friends who wears the hijab said:
“One of my ongoing frustrations is that most feminists stay silent when it comes to issues around the burka as traditionally it has been viewed by many as an oppressive garment, when rather the discussion should be about women’s ability to choose what they wear rather than being dictated to.”
On Tuesday, Theresa May said that Johnson should apologise for his comments, which had “clearly caused offence”, but Johnson has yet to give an apology of any kind. Can you imagine a world where you could mess up at work, be publicly asked to apologise by your boss and then just stay silent – safe in the knowledge there would be no consequences to your actions?
“Last year a record number of anti-Muslim attacks were reported in the UK”
Except there are consequences for people who aren’t Boris. There are consequences for people who wear the hijab or niqab; his words impact people, mostly women, who look visibly Muslim. Last year a record number of anti-Muslim attacks and abuse were reported in the UK.
As my friend explained:
“Once again we have Muslim women being used as a political football to create unnecessary controversy – it’s a perfect combination of both misogyny and Islamophobia and something most of us honestly are just tired of discussing. The number of women who wear the burka is minimal, yet the amount of airtime and column space dedicated to it is hugely disproportionate.
“The sad reality is that comments such as this will only serve to embolden Islamophobes and those who choose to wear the burka will likely suffer the brunt.”
It’s easy to feel powerless when you see men like Boris Johnson spew racist and sexist comments without ever paying the price. But we are not powerless. If you or someone you care about wear the hijab or niqab I am sorry you have to deal with things like this. I cannot imagine how tired you are. If you are not a Muslim woman, consider joining me in signing this pledge to stand with Muslim women today, and every day. Furthermore, don’t waste your time by reading Boris Johnson’s column. Instead read articles by writers, speakers and organisers like Huda Jawad, a phenomenal woman who helped make the Women’s March in London happen; who works for a violence against women charity and is a mum of two boys. Let’s give women like Huda a platform and not Boris Johnson.
When public figures make racist and sexist comments about Muslim women, thousands of people feel less safe when they walk down the street. They feel less safe because they are less safe. Boris Johnson must be held accountable.