Socialist Worker

Johnson’s burqa attack gives boost to far right

by Tomáš Tengely-Evans
Issue No. 2617

Boris Johnson and Leo Johnson attend the Boldness in Business Awards 2013

Boris Johnson and Leo Johnson attend the Boldness in Business Awards in 2013 (Pic: Financial Times/Flickr)


Pressure was growing on Theresa May to drop disciplinary measures against racist former foreign secretary Boris Johnson on Monday.

Right wingers and bigots have lined up to defend Johnson’s racist diatribe about Muslim women. He wrote in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper last week that women who wear the burqa look like “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

Various bigots also called Johnson jumped in to defend him.

His father and former Tory MEP Stanley Johnson wrote that his son “should have gone further” and called for a ban on the burqa.

And Mail on Sunday columnist Rachel Johnson painted her brother as standing up for women’s rights against “the oppressive garment”.

They all claim that Johnson simply expressed what the majority of ordinary people think. But millions of people, of all backgrounds, believe people should be free to wear what they want.

Belief

Sam Waterhouse lives in Johnson’s Uxbridge constituency in west London. “I believe that women have the right to wear whatever they choose to wear,” she told Socialist Worker. “If I thought that a woman was being coerced, I would be behind the woman.

“But what’s going on in society at the moment is that women are being coerced by anti-Muslim figures to wear other than what they would choose to wear.”

The fallout from Johnson’s racist article has intensified the war within the Tory party.

Johnson has been positioning himself as a potential leadership challenger, appealing particularly to the party’s racist base.

Outcry forced May and party chairman Brandon Lewis into calling an investigation—which they saw as an opportunity to sideline Johnson. But right wing backbenchers have seized on this “witch hunt” to pressure May over Brexit.

The 1922 Committee of ­backbench Tory MPs needs 48 ­letters to trigger a vote of no confidence in the leader.

According to some MPs, 38 have already been sent over the proposed Brexit deal—and one MP warned, “Any punishment beating will be the tipping point.”

But this is about more than internal Tory warfare. Johnson’s prejudices show how deeply racism runs through the party. His comments are no fringe belief among Conservatives.

They stem from the government’s Islamophobic policies—which May has been at the forefront of pushing through.

Terrible

“Jeremy Corbyn is labelled as antisemitic when he’s against the terrible things Israel is doing to the Palestinians,” said Sam in Uxbridge.

“Johnson has come out with some hideously racist, nasty, defamatory comments, but everyone just thinks it’s because he’s a bumbling fool, a joke or a laugh. I don’t think he’s a joke or a laugh. I think he’s evil and corrupt.”

Johnson’s comments will give confidence to the resurgent forces of the British far right.

And he is already responsible for the increase in abuse Muslim women are suffering on the streets.

Anti-racists must build opposition to Islamophobic attacks—and against the politicians who fuel them.


Men telling women what they can wear

Attacks on Muslim women who wear the burqa are cloaked in claims of standing up against male oppression.

The idea of white men “saving” oppressed women has been a recurring theme of Western imperialism.

Tory Lord Cromer was in charge of the colonisation of Egypt during the heyday of Johnson’s beloved British Empire.

To firm up British rule of the country, Cromer argued that people had to adopt a Western way of life. And, in particular, he saw the veil as “backward” and an obstacle to his “civilising” mission.

Islamophobia

He was also the president of the Men’s League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage in Britain.

Western politicians use Islamophobia to try and justify their imperialist wars in the Middle East. They paint Muslims as an “enemy within” or a “nation within a nation” refusing to accept “British values”.

The attacks on the burqa today are part of this “othering” of Muslims.

Socialists should not fall into the trap of believing religion is responsible for women’s oppression. The left must stand against Islamophobia and behind a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants to wear.


Former foreign minister’s record proves his bigotry

Boris Johnson has a long record of racism—and is now courting far right figures.

He is reported to have built a relationship with Donald Trump’s former senior adviser—racist Steve Bannon.

Bannon urged him not to “bow at the altar of political correctness by apologising” for his article about Muslim women.

And he said Johnson would make a “good prime minister”—in the same breath as praising Nazi Tommy Robinson as a “force of nature”.

Campaign

In 2016 former US president Barack Obama waded into the European Union referendum campaign on the side of Remain. Johnson labelled the first black president as a “part?Kenyan” who had an “ancestral dislike” of Britain.

This sort of old-fashioned racism, born of the British Empire, is a recurring theme for Johnson.

In a 2002 Sunday Telegraph column Johnson said the queen liked touring the Commonwealth because she’s greeted by “cheering crowds of ­flag?waving piccaninnies”. And he went on to write that people in central Africa would greet Tony Blair with “watermelon smiles”.

These are not the outbursts of a Tory dinosaur, but crafted appeals to Tory racism.


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.