Johnson 'inflammatory, divisive,' says UK watchdog

By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON (AA) – Former British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s remarks regarding Muslim women wearing burkas were “inflammatory and divisive,” Britain’s equality watchdog said Friday.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said Johnson’s comments in a newspaper op-ed – in which he said burka-wearing women looked like “letter boxes” or “bank robbers” – risked “vilifying Muslim women.”

Johnson will face an investigation over breaches of the ruling Conservative Party's code of conduct following his Islamophobic remarks. The investigation, to be carried out by an independent panel led by a lawyer, will represent the first step in disciplinary action that has been called for by a number of Tory MPs and independent organizations.

Local media reports say the equalities commission got complaints over Johnson’s controversial remarks.

"The effectiveness of our democratic society depends on freedom of expression, and the expression of offensive and intolerant opinions is generally not unlawful,” the BBC quoted Rebecca Hilsenrath, the commission’s chief executive, as saying.

"Boris Johnson's use of language in this instance, which risks dehumanizing and vilifying Muslim women, is inflammatory and divisive,” she added.

“Political figures should lead by example, conducting debates in a responsible manner, and language such as this can inhibit legitimate dialogue," she added.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) yesterday welcomed the Conservative Party decision to launch an inquiry into Johnson’s Islamophobic remarks.

“Enough is enough. We need action from the Conservative Party. Nothing less will do,” said Harun Khan, secretary general of the MCB.

Meanwhile, also on Thursday, a group of protesters gathered in front of a Conservative Party office in Johnson’s constituency Uxbridge, calling for his resignation.

Under the Conservative Party’s code of conduct, MPs and individuals who hold a position in public office should “not use their position to bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others” and should instead “foster and respect tolerance.”

Muslim advocacy groups Tell Mama and the Muslim Council of Britain, among many others, have called on the Conservative Party to urgently address the issue of Islamophobia among its leadership and members following Johnson’s controversial article.