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September 2, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:17am

Boris Johnson’s Telegraph column comparing Muslim women with ‘letterboxes’ led to Islamophobia ‘spike’

By PA Mediapoint and Press Gazette

There was a “significant spike” in Islamophobic incidents after Boris Johnson compared women in burkhas to “letterboxes” in his Daily Telegraph column, according to an anti-racism organisation.

Tell Mama said there was a near four-fold increase (375 per cent) in anti-Muslim incidents in the week following Johnson’s comments when compared with the week before.

In the Telegraph article, published in August 2018, the then backbench MP said full-face veils should not be banned, but it was “absolutely ridiculous” women chose to “go around looking like letterboxes”.

The former Foreign Secretary also compared them to “bank robbers”. Johnson was appointed Prime Minister last month.

In the week after the column was published, 38 anti-Muslim incidents were reported to police and Tell Mama. Of those incidents, 22 involved “visibly Muslim women who wore the face veil”, according to the organisation.

“Between August 5 and August 29, 42 per cent of the street-based incidents reported to Tell Mama directly referenced Boris Johnson and/or the language used in his column,” a statement from the organisation said.

Johnson later defended his words, insisting that the backlash against them was nothing more than “confected indignation” at his “strong views” on Brexit.

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At the time of writing, the column appears in the “Boris on foreign affairs” section of the Telegraph’s “best of Boris” archive of his columns.

Tell Mama’s 2018 annual report, published today, said that “dehumanising language” in such newspaper pieces can have a damaging “drip effect” on minorities who are targeted with racist, hateful or bigoted language.

“When politicians or newspapers evoke dehumanising language, during major campaigns or in opinion columns, or on social media, it risks normalising language which, in turn, seeps further into everyday discussions,” it said.

Johnson was a Telegraph columnist for almost 30 years, stopping briefly when he became Foreign Secretary in 2016.

He resumed his £275,000 column a week after resigning from the Cabinet in July last year but did not tell the Government watchdog, in breach of ministerial code.

His column ended with immediate effect when he won the Conservative leadership race and became PM in July.

Picture: Reuters/Dylan Martinez

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