Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s Facebook page has played host to hundreds of Islamophobic messages following his comments where he described Muslim women who have chosen to wear the burka as looking like “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. As a British Muslim woman myself, I think Johnson needs to take a good hard look in the mirror and reflect upon the impact of his words. He cannot deny the fact that his comments have fuelled the recent spike of anti-Muslim hate in the UK.
Who is Johnson to speak on behalf of the many Muslim women who choose to wear the burka in adherence to their own spiritual beliefs? I know intelligent, confident, pioneering Muslim women who wear the burka and who contribute significantly to the community as doctors, surgeons, teachers, lawyers, entrepreneurs and more. I think we should ask a Muslim woman in burka to describe Boris’s dress code and speak on behalf of him and see what they have to say about it.
Fatima Noor, who holds a PhD and wears the burka, told me that: “I have been wearing the burka for 20 years and it is my choice to wear it. Johnson needs to understand that he cannot speak on our behalf. His insulting comments will only further heighten Islamophobic rhetoric in the UK”.
Shazia Khan, 22 from London also addressed her concerns: “I have never been pressurised to wear the burka I have worn this to please God. I just wish political public figures would stop going on about what Muslim women are wearing”.
Johnson’s comments have sparked outrage with opposition Labour MP David Lammy also tweeting that, “Labour Muslim women are having their burkas pulled off by thugs in our streets & Boris Johnson’s response is to mock them for ‘looking like letter boxes’”. There are already enough issues with combatting Islamophobia in the UK and irresponsible and deliberately insulting comments can further escalate the situation.
One has to question the motives behind such comments with Boris wanting to run to be a potential candidate as the next prime minister. It was recently reported that he has been in direct contact with Steve Bannon the US President’s former chief strategist and former head of far-right nationalist website Breitbart. Bannon is known to try to help nationalists win seats so perhaps this is one of Johnson’s targeted attempts on winning Bannon over.
Theresa May has called on Johnson to apologise for his remarks, but frankly his stance in being defiant shows that even if he were to apologise it would mean very little as he shows no remorse for his actions. I believe in calling for religious tolerance and respect. Christian nuns are deeply respected for dressing modestly and covering their head because they are doing it for God. In the same way, many Muslim women who choose to wear the burka are doing so to please God. Why is the same respect not given? Would there not be outrage if Johnson had described a nun in the same way? Respect is something that is earned and as someone who has previously held the post as foreign secretary, Johnson needs to learn a thing or two about what it takes to be a real leader who unites people, respects people and lives to celebrate diversity in the country - everything which he is not.
It is clearly apparent that the open prejudices that Johnson has exhibited against the wearing of the burka can only further increase Islamophobia. Negative representation of Muslims in the media has made it more difficult for Muslim men and women when it comes to getting employment due to fear of discrimination. Increased crime against Muslims is another repercussion that we have to deal with. It is quite clear that Johnson is not interested in a real discussion about the burka or why Muslim women choose to wear it. Instead he is more interested in craving attention and gaining leadership within the Conservative party. Mr Johnson’s remarks have sent anger and frustration at his ignorance or deliberately place comments that only seek to cause divisions rather than promote religious tolerance within the UK.