Boris Johnson is no stranger to controversy. But last week, his remarks about Muslim women and their clothing were the height of bigotry and utterly inexcusable. Comparing Muslim women who wear the veil to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers” isn’t “colourful rhetoric”, it’s blatantly Islamophobic and offensive.
I don’t doubt for a minute the former Foreign Secretary knew what he was doing – causing offence to stir up bigotry and keep his name in the papers while he continues to plot his own path to No10.
But Johnson’s remarks are dangerous because they embolden bigots – and it will be Muslim women walking down the high street minding their own business who will face the consequences.
Those who have attempted to defend the comments have cited the values of a liberal society and the place of the burka in that society. But one thing that does not have a place in a liberal society is men attempting to dictate what women can and cannot wear.
Do the comments merely scratch the surface of the deep-rooted Islamophobia dominating the Tory party?
The Record revealed last week that Scottish Tory councillor Ron McKail shared Islamophobic posts on Facebook, shamefully comparing Muslim women to patio umbrellas. And during Donald Trump’s visit to the UK last month, Tory MP Michael Fabricant tweeted a grotesque picture depicting London Mayor Sadiq Khan alongside a pig.
These incidents are not off the cuff – they are calculated and callous. That is why the SNP’s depute Westminster leader Kirsty Blackman wrote to Tory Party chair Brandon Lewis, calling for the whip to be removed from Johnson, and for a full investigation of his comments under the party’s code of conduct.
Belatedly, Lewis has confirmed there will be an investigation. If the Tory Party are serious about addressing racism, then we should be able to look forward to Johnson facing the boot out of the party.
The dark reality is Johnson, Fabricant and McKail are all signs of the direction the Tories are unashamedly heading.
Last month, it was revealed Johnson had met Steve Bannon – Donald Trump’s former advisor and an extreme far-right conspiracy theorist, who has peddled Islamophobic and anti-Semitic sentiments. The SNP will not stand by and accept this dog-whistle Islamophobia.
Theresa May has two options – either stamp out the racism and bigotry rotting at the very core of the Tory Party or allow normalising toxic rhetoric straight out the Bannon book of bigotry.
It’s time May and Lewis heeded calls from the Muslim Council of Britain and Sayeeda Warsi – former co-chair of the Conservative party – and launched a wider independent inquiry into the Islamophobia within the party.
At a time when political discourse is alienating many, we all have a duty to consider the language we use and to reject any kind of intolerance.