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It's painful, but we have to take Boris seriously. Here's why Open in fullscreen

Malia Bouattia

It's painful, but we have to take Boris seriously. Here's why

As Mayor of London, Johnson famously got stuck dangling from a zipline in 2012 [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 July, 2019

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Comment: Make no mistake, Boris Johnson is not the bumbling idiot he might seem. His toxic Islamophobia will take the UK to new depths, writes Malia Bouattia.
In Boris Johnson's essay Then came the Muslims which was included in a 2007 edition to his book, The Dream of Rome, discovered by the Guardian, Boris Johnson wrote about Islam being the reason that the Muslim world was "literally centuries behind".

He added that the religion "inherently inhibits the path to progress and freedom".

He goes on to express dissatisfaction with the contributions made by Muslims, making comparisons between the Ottoman and Roman/Byzantine Empire.

Johnson even makes the claim, when discussing the Sistine Chapel, that "There is nothing like it in Muslim art of that or any age, not just because it is beyond the technical accomplishment of Islamic art, but because it is so theologically offensive to Islam."

Many of us could very easily debunk the ludicrous claims made by Boris, list the many historical contributions of Muslims to the sciences, arts throughout time, name the wonders built across the world, but this isn't where time and energy needs to be spent.

As Muslims, we do not need to justify ourselves, nor scramble for acceptance from a political figure whose entire career has been built on reinforcing oppressive and violent views against the most vulnerable in society.

This isn't a bumbling clown, who just blurts things out without thinking

This isn't the first time nor do we expect it to be the last,  that Johnson has expressed such racist generalisations about Muslims or other racialised groups. But it reinforces the fact that we have to take him seriously despite his act as a likeable village idiot and that his imminent assent to the office of prime minister should worry us all.

This isn't a bumbling clown, who just blurts things out without thinking or meaning harm, we have to give him more credit than that, as much as it pains me to admit it. It would otherwise undermine the impact that he is having, and is likely to continue to have, on normalising what is already an incredibly hate-filled time for Muslims.

Boris has also made no secret of his relationship with white nationalists like Bannon and Trump.

Just recently, the British ambassador to the US was said to have been "thrown under the bus" by Johnson after he came under attack by Trump over confidential information which had been leaked. 


As a result, Sir Kim Darroch, a senior diplomat, was forced to resign. Boris demonstrated where his allegiances lie, and who he identifies as a political ally: The most powerful racist in the world.

His links to Steve Bannon - an avowed anti-Semite, Islamophobe, and white supremacist - and his support for Bannon's ongoing project to unify the right across Europe, further points to Johnson's political allies and projects.

When Boris mocks Muslim women wearing the niqab and compares them to letter boxes, he is not simply making bigoted jokes, he is dog whistling to his base of hardened racists and reactionaries in the Tory rank and file.

The question, then, of what a Britain under Johnson would look like is one that should worry us.

While it seems difficult to imagine that it could get much worse after May's tenure – that brought us Grenfell and the hostile environment to name just a couple of her racist top hits – one should not assume that we have reached the depths of conservative reaction in the UK.

Boris' brand of politics was illustrated perfectly during the Brexit campaign. Originally a Remain-er, as all the big business focused and austerity driven Tories were, his op-ed defending the EU was written and ready to be published.

Then sensing an opportunity to mobilise the more radical, racist, and xenophobic middle-class base of the party against his competitors, he jumped ship and changed his tune from one day to the next. The rest is history.

The future is likely to see much more of the same, with a Johnson-led government trying to out-bid the growing competition of the party on its right by increasing its repressive, securitising, racist rhetoric and law making.

Much like in the rest of Europe, we are likely to witness an even sharper turn to the right under Boris' leadership. In France, Belgium, Spain, Holland, Italy, to name but a few, as of course in the United States, important sections of the traditional right have made the decision to ally openly with fascist and extreme right-wing movements, parties, and individuals in order to garner more votes.

Boris is dog whistling to his base of hardened racists and reactionaries in the Tory rank and file

In the long term, this leads to the legitimisation of their ideas and their rise to power. As Le Pen's father once put it in the French context, at some point people prefer voting for the original rather than the imitation. 

It is striking for example, how Johnson, along with the rest of May's government, continues to engage in open relations with the openly anti-Semitic and authoritarian Hungarian government of Victor Orban. While he is happy to cynically manipulate fears of anti-Semitism in the UK in order to undermine the Labour Party, he is equally happy to throw Jewish populations under the bus when it suits his political interests elsewhere. 

Read more: Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn blasts Trump's racist tweets

As the final Tory party hustings is behind us and the appointment of Boris Johnson by just over a 100,000 Tories is nearing, we should be under no illusions of what is to come.

Johnson represents today the far-right of the conservative party and the latest revelation about his views on Muslims is but one more piece of a large, reactionary, and racist puzzle.

It is incumbent on all of us to defeat the politics he represents

While the Labour Party will rightly look to unseat him as quickly as possible through the ballot box, it is incumbent on all of us to defeat the politics he represents in our streets, our communities, workplaces, colleges and universities.

Perhaps this can be yet another contribution of Muslims, alongside women, migrants, LGBTQ, black, Jewish, working class, and other communities that Johnson holds in contempt, on - as his book would have it - "the path to progress and freedom". 

Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.

Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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