The Troll of the Month is an episode we choose every month to expose racist and anti-religious haters and to show the positive outcomes in the fight against intolerance in Europe.
Boris Johnson, the former British foreign secretary, has compared Muslim women who wear the full-face veil to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.
In a column published on The Daily Telegraph on the 6th of August, Johnson warned against implementing a “burka ban” in Britain similar to the one that was just approved in Denmark. In expressing his opposition, however, he mocked women who wear the niqab and the burka.
Apart from remarking that women in full-face veils “look like letter boxes”, he said he found the Islamic garment worn by some Muslim women "oppressive". He also added it was "weird" and "bullying" to "expect women to cover their faces".
His derogatory remarks prompted reactions from MPs, charities, and citizens.
The British prime minister Theresa May said he should be more careful with his language and joined other Conservatives in calling for Johnson to apologise. Writing in The Guardian, Baroness Warsi, former chair of the Conservative party and first Muslim woman in cabinet, said “his remarks are indefensible, and have no place in the modern Conservative party.”
Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Britain’s largest Islamic organisation, said Islamophobic attacks have increased since Johnson’s column. “Mr Johnson deployed memes used previously by the far right and his comments appear to have spurred on anti-Muslim bigots, with attacks on Muslim women on the streets,” stated a letter by MCB to Theresa May. They urged the prime minister to start a full disciplinary inquiry as “no one should be allowed to victimise minorities with impunity”.
Nada UmmNour, a Canadian graduate biochemist living in Birmingham, told Al Jazeera: “I'm not oppressed - because wearing the niqab is my choice. It's like I have to prove to people I'm not being oppressed. I think it's a form of misogyny to put a woman in a position where she has to constantly justify her actions“.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has defined Boris Johnson’s comments on the burka “inflammatory and divisive”, but said it cannot launch an investigation, as the remarks fall outside its remit of investigating breaches of equality law.
Alongside criticism, Johnson’s article has also sparked a plethora of equally inflammatory pieces by other columnists, such as Liz Jones on the Mail on Sunday, who backed Johnson’s claims and dehumanised Muslim women. By writing that piece, the former foreign secretary has normalised the ridiculing and the demeaning of minorities in Britain.
But Boris Johnson is not the only one to blame for his Islamophobic remarks. The editors of The Telegraph approved the article and allowed these dehumanizing discriminatory words to be published and read by hundreds of thousand readers, thus normalising anti-Muslim sentiment and spreading insults aimed at one group of a diverse British society.
The Media Diversity Institute (MDI), as a charity working to encourage ethical and responsible media coverage, and leading partner in the Get the Trolls Out project, submitted an official complaint to The Telegraph stating that the newspaper has breached IPSO’s Editors’ Code of Practice on its rule number 12, on discrimination: “i) The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual's, race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability.”
The Editors' Code is a set of rules that newspaper and magazine industry members have agreed to accept. It sets the standards that newspapers and magazines can be held to account by IPSO and is part of the contract between IPSO and the newspapers and magazines it regulates.
MDI has requested answers on why The Telegraph published Johnson’s Islamophobic remarks against Muslim women wearing the full face veil, what action was taken within The Telegraph afterwards, and what could be done to prevent a recurrence in the future.
As The Daily Telegraph denied breaching article number 12 of the IPSO’s code without justification, MDI has contacted IPSO directly, which has said it will further investigate the case.