If there are two facts about Boris Johnson that are true, one is that he is a clever man and the other is that his only interest is his own self-promotion.
He made headlines yet again this week by refusing to apologise for alleged Islamophobic comments he made in his column in The Telegraph. He is clever because there is nothing in his carefully-written piece that amounts to Islamophobia, even the now-infamous letter boxes and bank robber lines. His choice of language was not careless, as some have suggested in his defence. Far from it. He and The Telegraph knew that those would be the few words from an article of over 1,000 that the media would quote and repeat ad nauseam for the entire news cycle. The Telegraph got all that they ever want (clicks) and Mr Johnson got more of the publicity he craves.
I first heard about the story on Radio 4’s Today programme on my drive into work. The Muslim Council of Britain had apparently been quick to issue a statement condemning Mr Johnson for his inflammatory language and various other commentators on Twitter had subsequently called for him to apologise. Later on, as I was driving back home, the story had moved on and several of his supporters had given interviews defending Mr Johnson’s right to free speech, no matter how offensive.
By the time I got home, I was feeling angry and appalled by Mr Johnson’s brazen Islamophobia, as many others were. I was all ready to sit down and write a scathing piece about him and his views – probably mentioning his beady eyes and moppish hair – but I though I had better read the article in question first, if only to give me more ammunition for my attack. I was disappointed: the article is well written and humorous, as is typical of the man. It is also balanced and makes many thoughtful points. And in the end he concludes that it would be wrong to ban the burka in Britain: a point that you could have easily missed had you not read the article in its entirety.
In one day Boris Johnson has become two people. To those on the right he is now a last bastion of British values, the only one who can Make Britain Great Again and who dares to ‘say it how it is’. To those on the left, however, he is further evidence of deep-seated Islamophobia within the conservative party and a small step away from becoming the next populist right-wing leader. After actually taking the time to read the article, I can see that both of these views are a fiction created by the media, both mainstream and social, right and left.
In fact, his views almost exactly mirror mine; that the burka has no Islamic basis and in some circumstances may be a detriment to its wearers, but that in a free country like Britain we should not dictate how a woman should dress in public (beyond the basic standards of decency expected of everyone), no matter how ridiculous we might think they look.
After all of this only one thing is any clearer: Boris Johnson is one step closer to becoming the next Prime Minister.