Boris Johnson; the ultimate influencer

(This article was originally commissioned and published by The Metro)


We live in an influencer culture and whether we love it or hate it, public opinion shifts and sways based on the actions, habits and words of the people we prop up. Kate Middleton can be seen wearing something from Topshop and it sells out the next day. Emma Watson can support a cause and donations rise through the roof. David Beckham visits a particular restaurant and it’s the hottest spot in London. Boris Johnson compares Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers and my life as a Muslim woman becomes something to laugh at. It becomes something to prod at or pull apart.

That’s how influencing works and we’ve been doing it for centuries. This isn’t a product of modern society or Instagram, but rather something you can trace as far back as Tudor history when the women of the court set the fashions for the country and the men dictated the practices and playtimes of a nation. The only difference is we now have more devices to stream that influence to. We now have it direct into our pockets which means we’ve got greater access to, and more air time with, the people who craft the consciousness of our country.

Which is why watching Boris Johnson make a grab at the Tory leadership is like watching my life slowly spiral out of control because the truth is, Boris in Downing Street does make things much more difficult for me. His comments aren’t just wayward words that I dismiss as the racist and Islamophobic rantings of a man who, based on his hair, is obviously going through a mid-life crisis, but rather they’re tomorrows headlines that arrive in every household across the UK. That then seeps into the narrative of Muslims in England which then translates into questions for me like ‘have you ever met Osama Bin-Laden’ and ‘what are ISIS going to do next?’ It often seems ludicrous that I’m even asked those questions at all, but when you realise that we have a major political figure, and potentially our next Prime Minister, consistently spitting out hatred towards a religious group of people, it actually makes perfect sense. Why wouldn’t people think that I, as a Muslim woman, know exactly what ISIS are up to on a daily basis. I’m also asked if my parents are going to force me into an arranged marriage, if I’m allowed to change my religious belief and how I managed to break free from wearing hijab. All genuine questions I’ve been asked because there is always someone in the Conservative Party willing to stand up and trash talk Islam and Muslims and in doing so, perpetuate a false and deeply problematic narrative.

In 2016 it was David Cameron as he called Muslim women ‘traditionally submissive’ and now we have Boris who seems to have taken up the Muslim bashing baton with great enthusiasm. It’s no coincidence then that as this vitriol continues to leak out of our politicians, religious hate crimes have risen by 40%. While statistics can often feel removed and unpersonal, this one feels far too close to home. It’s a red flag telling me that the tide is rising, and you need to find safety quickly, because this whole messy thing is bound to have disastrous consequences.

I was sitting in a restaurant in December with another Muslim friend of mine when we were told by a white, English woman to go back to our own country and ‘we’d all soon be gone anyway.’ I worry that she might be right. What will happen to the Muslims in this country as the public discourse remains anti-Islam and continues to push us to the borders of society as misfits, bank robbers and terrorists. I’m worried that if Boris Johnson becomes the next leader of the United Kingdom, he’ll become an even bigger influencer, and how many other people around the world will listen to his comments and assume truth. Because that’s the thing about influencers; we buy into them, like them and love them or hate them and loathe them, but either way, we do listen to them. And all it takes is one person, with the right platform, saying something out loud to grant permission to thousands of other people to say similar things and to eventually act on those things. Boris Johnson in Downing Street was something we used to laugh at once upon a time, but as we creep closer to this reality, Boris Johnson in Downing Street is actually a warning siren. A red flag to Muslims that things are about to get worse for us and it’s time to buckle up because if it does happen, we’re in for a terrible ride.

Salma El-Wardany