Government’s extremism adviser urges politicians to watch their words

Boris Johnson 
 (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images).
Boris Johnson (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images).

THE government’s chief adviser on extremism has urged politicians from across the divide to be careful of their language, pointing out that they risk provoking violence, it was reported on Monday (16).

Sara Khan, who leads the Commission for Countering Extremism, told the Guardian that inflammatory language was undermining the fight against hateful narratives.

On prime minister Boris Johnson likening Muslim women wearing burqas to “bank robbers” and letterboxes,” Khan said: “Politicians from across the divide need to be very careful of their language. I find that language, personally, demeaning [and] dehumanising, I don’t think we need to use that type of language.

“Again it’s this responsibility on all politicians, whether it’s language like that, whether it’s using the E-word [extremist], whether it’s calling people, just because they hold a different political opinion than you, ‘enemies of the people’, [it’s] deeply, deeply unhelpful. We have to be very careful about the language we’re using.”

Last week, Johnson faced humiliation during prime minister’s questions when Tan Singh Dhesi, the Commons’ first turbaned Sikh MP, rebuked him for the letterboxes comment.

Addressing the prime minister, Dhesi said: “For those of us who from a young age have had to endure and face up to being called names such as towel-head, or Taliban, or coming from bongo-bongo land, we can fully appreciate the hurt and pain of already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like bank robbers and letterboxes.

“Rather than hide behind sham and whitewash investigations, when will the prime minister finally apologise for his derogatory and racist remarks?”

Johnson made these comments in a 2018 Daily Telegraph column, where he said women in burqas resembled letterboxes and bank robbers.

A recent report from monitoring organisation Tell Mama revealed that the number of anti-Muslim incidents increased by 375 per cent in the week after Johnson’s letterboxes comment.

The group recorded 38 anti-Muslim hate incidents in the week following the publication of the article. Of the 38 incidents, 22 were directed at Muslim women who wore the face veil.