Prime Minister Boris would be bad news for Britain's Muslims

Prime Minister Boris would be bad news for Britain's Muslims
Comment: Boris Johnson has a long, dark history of Islamophobia and racism, writes Sam Hamad.
6 min read
01 Jul, 2019
Johnson has backtracked on an earlier promise to hold an inquiry into Tory Islamophobia [Getty]
In today's whirlwind political context, very little can be taken for granted about the fate of the UK or - given the disposition of Britain's diminished democracy - which Tory candidate will become the next prime minister. 

But one thing is now disturbingly clear: Whoever leads the Conservative Party and the UK, will be presiding over a party that has dangerously radical and embedded Islamophobia within its ranks. 

The recent data from a Hope Not Hate poll of Tory members found an astonishing 43 percent would "prefer not to have the country led by a Muslim".  

Though this has been clear for some time; the UK, and particularly England, has an Islamophobia problem that is now reaching a crisis point. 

The Tories, currently involved in an existential grapple with themselves over Brexit, are the UK's premier right-wing party, and reflect what is now clearly societally ingrained Islamophobia.  

But the Tories are also the party of government and, most disturbingly, the kind of party that will on a leadership level seek to reflect, as opposed to challenge, Islamophobia.  

You can already see the Islamophobic cogs turning in the respective leadership and prime ministerial campaigns of the two remaining contenders, namely Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. 

The frontrunner Johnson has a long, dark history of Islamophobia and racism.  

During his time as the editor of The Spectator, the right-wing magazine infamously published a frontpage with headline 'Eurabian Nightmare', with the crescent and star emblazoned over Europe. It was also in the same year that Johnson himself wrote that "fear of Islam… seems a natural reaction", adding that Islam "is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers". 

Perhaps the most sinister aspect of Johnson's Islamophobia is his links to far-right supremo, white nationalist and hardcore Islamophobe Steve Bannon

After the London bombings in 2005, Johnson had no hesitation in exploiting and stoking the Islamophobic backlash. He baldly declared not that there's a problem posed by a minority of Muslims who support an extremist political ideology, but rather "Islam is the problem", and that British Muslims must be made to see that "their faith must be compatible with British values and with loyalty to Britain," while non-Muslims must begin to accept that "Islam is the problem."

Johnson took a brief break from Islamophobic incitement when he decided to run as the mayor of London.

Knowing that he would require at least some of the vote from London's substantial Muslim electorate, he was suddenly a reborn Ramadan enthusiast, encouraging non-Muslims to fast during Ramadan to better understand Islam. 

The same Islam that he, merely a few years before, had claimed was "viciously intolerant" and was, as a faith believed by millions of people across these islands, "the problem" when it came to terrorism and matters of social cohesion.  

Read more: Seven times Boris Johnson has offended minority groups

One might claim that Johnson's views on Islam merely progressed. But barely two years after the end of his mayoralty when he was once again pushing to become Tory leader that he - realising that his target demographic was Islamophobes - wrote an article grotesquely comparing women who wear the burka to letterboxes.   

But perhaps the most sinister aspect of Johnson's Islamophobia is his links to far-right supremo, white nationalist and hardcore Islamophobe Steve Bannon.

Bannon, who served first as the editor of the fascistic Breitbart media outlet and then as "chief strategist" and "senior councillor" to President Donald Trump, has sought to create a foundation that will financially nourish Eurosceptic far-right Islamophobic parties across Europe.

Bannon's vision is for Europe to be ruled over by Islamophobic fascists.  

In keeping with the nature of his editorship of Breitbart, which saw the website become a premier source of Islamophobic incitement, Bannon has appeared at rallies in support of arch-Islamophobe and neofascist Marine Le Pen, while believing that the West is an existential war with "radical Islam". 

He has cited the so-called refugee crisis as a "Muslim invasion" of Europe, and sees his support for far-right parties on the continent as being part of a fightback against such an invasion.  

It was no surprise that during his time at Trump's side, Bannon was thought to be the chief architect of the horrific Muslim ban.   

Despite Johnson's denials, it has emerged that Bannon has consistently been in private correspondence with him.  In fact, as revealed by video evidence released by The Observer, Bannon, referring to Johnson's calculated resignation from the May government last year, says Johnson is going to "overthrow the British government".

Bannon boasts that he's been "talking to him all weekend about [his resignation] speech", and goes on to talk about how he helped Johnson craft the speech.

Even Jeremy Hunt, the so-called 'moderate' candidate running against Boris, has come to realise that in the Brexit era his main electorate have come to demand Islamophobia in some form. 

Hunt said he "agreed 150 percent" with a tweet sent by Trump attacking London mayor Sadiq Khan - the tweet itself quoted the fascist clown Katie Hopkins linking recent arbitrary stabbings to what she called "Khan's Londonistan".

Read more: Boris Johnson says women wearing burqas look like 'letterboxes' and 'bank robbers'

This is not normal electioneering.

Hopkins has previously called for a "final solution to Islam".  All of this is deemed acceptable by the so-called "moderate" Hunt. 

But given 45 percent of his party's membership believe in the far-right myth of Muslim "no-go zones" (an even more astonishing 67 percent believe there are areas of the UK that "operate under sharia law"), it's hardly surprising that Hunt would endorse the dangerous racist trope of Londonistan.   

It's no wonder that Johnson has now backtracked on an earlier promise to hold an inquiry into Islamophobia within the Tory Party - such an inquiry would mean challenging the beliefs of his core vote. This is how radicalisation works. This is the road that Brexit has set the UK upon.

Despite Johnson's denials, it has emerged that Bannon has consistently been in private correspondence with him

Both candidates of course support the calamity of Brexit and the centrality of both their pitches rests on who could best deliver it, but the Islamophobia on display is not an inconsequential sideshow.  

Islamophobia and Brexit are intimately intertwined in the same manner than anti-Muslim sentiment forms the central discourse of far-right populism across Europe. 

Think of the monstrous ways in which the Leave campaign exploited and stoked Islamophobia during the EU referendum, arguably culminating in the murder of the pro-Muslim immigration MP Jo Cox by a fascist assassin.  

Johnson and Hunt are simply conforming to and extending this spiralling extremist discourse. Brexit has radicalised large sections of the country towards the right on questions of immigration. 

Islamophobia is a major component of that. To put it simply, if anti-immigration narratives are a key part of Brexit in its totality, Islamophobia is a key part of these anti-immigration narratives.  

The attitudes within the Hope Not Hate poll readily demonstrate this, as does Nigel Farage's hard-right anti-immigrant Brexit Party, itself steeped in an only slightly more subtle form of Islamophobia, easily winning the Euro elections in England and Wales. 

This party of anti-immigrant populists now frequently outpolls both Labour and the Tories.

The consequence of this is that the Tories, who are determined to win back all those votes lost to the Brexit Party, while also ushering in a new right-wing Brexit era, will only further normalise anti-immigration politics – Muslims will be the main target.

Sam Hamad is an independent Scottish-Egyptian activist and writer.

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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.