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UK: Change the record Boris! The normalization of Islamophobia

14th Aug 2018
UK: Change the record Boris! The normalization of Islamophobia

By Dr. Katy Sian

London, (The Muslim News): Boris Johnson’s Islamophobic remarks about Muslim women and the veil are somewhat unsurprising given that the Tories have been responsible for pushing an anti-Muslim agenda for years. From David Cameron declaring that Muslim women ‘need to learn English’ and ‘fully integrate’ into society, to Sajid Javid championing harsher counter-terrorism measures, Islamophobia is a key component of the neo-conservative agenda.

Insulting and offensive tripe suggesting that Muslim women in the niqab ‘look like letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ alongside comments that the burka is ‘oppressive’ are also symptomatic of Britain’s, and more broadly the West’s, wider exclusionary politics and practices around Muslims. Islamophobia has been normalized for well over a decade. Johnson’s nonsense thus demonstrates yet another example of everyday structural Islamophobia, which has long been a lived reality for Muslims in Britain and the West. Since the War on Terror, we have seen the way in which anti-Muslim hatred is no longer restricted to the activity of the far right, but rather it now functions as part and parcel of the mainstream, heightened by a wider post-Brexit and post-Trump landscape. Of course, in contrast to the way Anti-Semitism in Corbyn’s Labour Party has been deemed a systemic problem, Islamophobia among British politicians has been reduced to the idiosyncratic ravings of a solitary over-ambitious ex-cabinet minister.

The performance of everyday Islamophobia is enacted in several ways. These include daily bouts of anti-Muslim violence and intimidation; discrimination and harassment in institutional settings; racist, sensationalist and pernicious media reporting (and platforming); and practices deployed by the state to restrict and regulate Muslim bodies (Sayyid, 2014). What we are seeing then are clear attempts at both the public and political level to domesticate Muslim populations as a way to ally wider anxieties in the West around ‘managing’ diversity, or put simply, keeping these nations White.

The lazy, predicable and tired Orientalist narratives around Muslim women and oppression and so on and so forth, are simply mobilized to reinforce national narratives around which bodies belong, and discipline those who display agency and choose to follow their own scripts. The constant overplaying of these reductive and hateful comments splashed across daily headlines, facilitate, empower, and legitimize Islamophobia. While undoubtedly mainstream media actively props up, and reinforces these racist sentiments in its increasing shift towards a right-wing stance, it is important to also recognize that it reflects and shapes the dominant discourse of society rather than vice versa.

Johnson’s insults are just the latest set of denunciations that send out the message that expressions of Islamophobia are justified; tomorrow it will be something else about Muslims by another bigot in a never-ending cycle of anti-Muslim hate. When we find ourselves – as we do now – in a toxic climate whereby Islamophobia has more or less been given the green light, it reveals the desperate and sorry state of these nations, which rather than embrace and respect the diversity of their population, instead prefer to reaffirm and re-establish white supremacy.

The unwillingness over the years to fight against and challenge Islamophobia effectively, has allowed for its normalization across all sectors of society. Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry are palpable for us all, whether lurking behind a corner, in a newspaper, on our television screens, or in our workplaces, there is no respite. The all too familiar tune around the right to offend under the banner of ‘free speech’ or ‘political correctness gone mad’ is already being played loudly, with various commentators running to Johnson’s defence to validate Islamophobia. But one has to question, who will be there to defend Muslims in the face the predictable backlash? Johnson’s Islamophobic comments have already provoked abuse and harassment directed at ordinary Muslim women and men going about their daily lives. It’s therefore hard to laugh at these supposed ‘jokes’ particularly when they are coming at the expense of the dignity of particular minority communities who are once again left to deal with the real consequences on the ground.


Sayyid, S. (2014) ‘A Measure of Islamophobia’ Islamophobia Studies Journal, Vol. 2, No. 1, pp. 10-25.


Dr. Katy Sian is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of York. Books include: Conversations in Postcolonial Thought (2014) New York: Palgrave, Unsettling Sikh and Muslim Conflict: Mistaken Identities, Forced Conversions, and Postcolonial Formations (2013) Lanham: Lexington Books, and Racism, Governance, and Public Policy: Beyond Human Rights (2013) London: Routledge (co-author).

[Photo: Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson makes Islamophobic remarks on Muslim women. Photographer:  Issam Rimawi/AA]

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