Thanks, but no thanks. As Boris Johnson handed a crowd of reporters a tray of tea in a selection of familiar household mugs, as if offering it to the nation, he successfully avoided any speck of accountability for his op-ed in The Telegraph in which he suggests that niqab-wearing Muslim women “go around looking like letter boxes” and “bank robbers”. Simultaneously, he ensured that only one clip from a day’s worth of reporting was shown to the world: his carefully planned, strategic move to generate positive publicity, its virality helped by the disgust of myself and others alike. It pains me to draw yet more attention to him.

How anyone could be fooled by such a helpless facade of an ordinary bloke is beyond me, but the truth is that this will work. To many, he’s just a harmless buffoon and all this controversy is over nothing — of course he’d much rather move on from the topic, handing out some tea from the goodness of his heart. That makes sense, right? 

But we can’t let him charm his way out of this. It’s all part of a strategy. Johnson spent time with Steve Bannon — the former White House Cheif Strategist to Trump, co-founder of Cambridge Analytica, and former executive chairman of Breitbart News — just before writing his piece for The Telegraph. Following the likes of Rowan Atkinson, Bannon then praised Johnson’s comments, stating that he had “nothing to apologise for”, twisting the argument by saying “didn’t he actually support the wearing of the veil?”, as if that somehow overturned the legitimate offense caused by Johnson’s comments.

Bannon is setting up a Brussels-based organisation called the Movement, intended to bring Trump’s right-wing populism overseas ahead of the upcoming European Parliament elections. It’s therefore absolutely in his interests to normalise Islamophobic sentiment, much as it’s in Johnson’s interests to cling onto anything that will bring him to power, amid rumours that he’s preparing for a leadership bid in the Autumn. In fact, this couldn’t be more characteristic of the floppy-haired MP: his biographer, Andrew Gimson, alleges that he lied about supporting the (then popular) SDP to win the Oxford Union presidency. All that’s left, then, to normalise his comments, is to normalise Boris. He can mute the uproar caused by his comments by walking out of his home, tray of tea in hands, mugs mixed and milk carton present, metaphorically repenting, though in actuality coming nowhere near. Notice how he mentions nothing relating to his comments: need he ask for forgiveness if he’s just like the rest of us? need we be angry if that could be any of us? Now the tea becomes the story.

That tweet, with its 2000 likes, isn’t ironic.

It’s a disgrace that our media is helping to normalise the former London Mayor, but it’s no surprise. Not necessarily because of any supposed right-wing bias, but simply because Boris knows how to play his cards. It’s to be expected that if, after a day of waiting outside his home to hear him respond to his comments, Johnson’s only response is this media stunt, it will be the story that is reported on. In other words, Johnson guaranteed himself favourable reporting, thereby not only making himself seem like the ‘loveable rogue’, but legitimising Islamophobia, rendering it supposedly ‘normal’. According to the government-backed hate crime monitoring group Tell Mama, there has been “an abnormal spike in anti-Muslim abuse aimed at women wearing the hijab and niqab” as a direct result of Johnson’s attacks.

We can’t let Boris make this seem normal. This power-hungry, unscrupulous Etonian will do anything to latch onto power, even if that involves stoking tensions against an already marginalised group. A clear message must be sent that this is not okay. By refusing to apologise, choosing to pull a media stunt instead, Johnson refused all accountability and chose to twist the plot in his favour. Let that be known.

Header image: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Categories: UK Politics

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