NEWS
16/12/2019 7:55 AM AEDT

‘Boris Johnson Remaining Prime Minister Makes Me Feel I’m Not Welcome’ – Muslims React To Tory Win

Muslim voters in the north of England have spoken of their fear and heartbreak at the re-election of a man who compared niqab-wearing women to letterboxes.

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Zainab Patel

Zainab Patel woke up feeling sick and on the verge of tears on Friday morning as she grappled with the reality of Boris Johnson’s landslide election victory.

“As a Muslim, it makes me feel we are not welcome in this country any more,” the 20-year-old university student told HuffPost UK.

As Boris Johnson and the Conservative party celebrate the largest Tory win since 1987, Zainab, who juggles university studies with working full-time in a cake shop in Blackburn, said she felt despondent.

“I feel so upset as everything feels so uncertain,” she said. “It is particularly terrible for the Muslim community. It makes you feel like you aren’t wanted and don’t belong.”

The former mill town of Blackburn experienced an influx of Pakistani and Indian immigrants in the 1960s and 1970s, many of who worked in the textile industry. 

Blackburn has a large Muslim population with more than 40 mosques in the borough, and the Whalley Range area of the town is about a third Muslim with many Asian shops and businesses.

For people like Zainab, the election result is a matter of great dismay, particularly in light of some of the inflammatory and divisive comments the returning prime minister has made about Muslims and Islam.

Boris Johnson was accused of Islamophobia after saying Muslim women who wear the niqab veil “look like letterboxes” and “bank robbers” and said it was “ridiculous” that people chose to wear them.

“The Muslim community came here in the 1960s and 1970s and opened businesses and takeaways and worked hard,” Zainab said.

“The nation’s favourite food is even curry, and not fish and chips – but now the election results makes it seem like people are turning against us.”

Zainab says that on her journey into work on Friday morning, she started looking around people in her community and wondering if they were racist. “It played on my mind and really made me question everything.

“People have gained confidence to vote that way and be more outspoken and vocal about their racism.

“With Boris Johnson’s leadership, it has given people in the UK confidence to air their racist views and their intolerance of people who are different to them.”

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Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal, 37, is also disappointed by the election result: he had been hoping for a Labour government. 

Healthcare was a big election issue for him. One of his sons suffers from epilepsy and his wife has been sick for the last year. “The NHS is not looking good due to all the cuts and redundancies and the system is really struggling,” he said.

Muhammad believes that although Boris Johnson made some racist comments, the prime minister says things to attract attention without really meaning them – and that they are blown up by the media.

All the same, he feels those remarks affect communities and that, “as leader of the country, he should avoid saying such things as they can cause hatred.”

Talking to HuffPost UK outside his home just near the vibrant Asian supermarkets, fashion boutiques, takeaways and confectioners jostling for attention on Whalley Range, Muhammad told us he thinks Boris Johnson is “quite entertaining on the TV and in the media”, and says that at least he has been moving things forward with Brexit after two years of the issue being virtually at a standstill.

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Mariya Hinglotwala

Mariya Hinglotwala, 24, says she feels that such a positive election result for Johnson reveals an element of racism across the UK.

“From Trump being elected in America to Boris being elected in the UK, society has gone completely backwards.” she said.

“Boris Johnson is bad news for Muslims and minorities and his slogan may as well have been: ‘Keep Britain White by voting for me.’

“To me, it feels like this is what people are saying by voting for Boris, and keeping someone like him in power. It just shows the amount of racism in this country for someone like him to have been elected in the first place.”

Mariya, a pharmacy dispenser, speaks to us in between serving customers at the bustling chemist near Whalley Range.

She says she feels Boris Johnson is “a joker, but not a leader”. She found his comments about Muslim women “deeply offensive”.

“We have freedom of speech in this country and people are entitled to say what they want. But I feel Boris Johnson should not be leader of this country if those are views he holds.

“If you are going to be leading a country which is full of diverse people, you need to make sure you look after everyone – not just one class of people.

“We are called the United Kingdom but this election result makes me think: what’s united about it if people can’t show humanity and respect for people’s faith?”

Zainab Butt, 18, who lives and works nearby, chooses to wear a headscarf as a Muslim woman, and wore a niqab for a while when going to the mosque. She said Boris Johnson’s incendiary comments describing Muslim women wearing niqabs as resembling “letterboxes” and “bank robbers” made her feel exposed and unsafe.

“Wearing a niqab at a time when Boris Johnson was making these racist remarks made me feel threatened and vulnerable.” she told HuffPost UK.

“With Boris Johnson saying he felt the niqab was oppressive, it felt like people were looking at me and questioning why I was wearing it and my choices.

“It made me think: ‘Why is someone else telling me what I can and can’t wear?’ A leader of a country should not be doing that.

“We want someone we can trust as prime minister and we cannot trust someone who makes us feel like that. We wanted someone who is fair and would give equal rights to all religions.” 

Zainab said she feels let down by people who voted for Boris Johnson. “When Boris Johnson is targeting one group of people with his racist comments, it really says a lot about the nation in making someone like him leader. Why did they vote to put someone like him in charge?

“It makes me feel upset and as if I am living in quite a racist country.”

Riaz, who did not want to give his last name, told HuffPost UK that he is disappointed by the Conservative landslide win as he thinks the party is not favourable towards minorities.

“For Muslims,” he said, “the Tories have never been pro minorities.

“It is not a party which works for the good of working class people.

“I think the negative media coverage about Labour, especially regarding Jeremy Corbyn, is what swung the election. Most of the national media was pro-Tory and anti-Corbyn.”

With regard to Johnson’s comments about Muslims, Riaz believes the prime minister says things to attract attention and then later regrets them and has to apologise. “Boris Johnson says what he thinks the popular crowd wants and then later has to backtrack,” he told us.

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Sobia Hussain

As a fervent follower of social media, Sobia Hussain says she was shocked at the Conservative election victory as she thought Labour would win.

“All the big celebrities I follow on social media channels were massively in support of Labour and the way everyone was talking, I was sure Labour was going to win,” she said. “I was shocked when Labour not just failed, but failed miserably. I thought if they did lose, it would be really close.”

The 33-year-old mum of two, who owns a beauty salon in Blackburn, spoke to HuffPost UK in between threading eyebrows for clients.

She said: “It would have been a huge benefit to all communities if Labour won, but particularly the Muslim community where in some traditional households only one person works.

“Also, culturally, when someone gets married to someone who comes from back home, it can be difficult for them to get a job when they don’t know the language.”

Sobia says that while she isn’t sure if Boris Johnson is “racist in his heart”, she definitely feels he was a “bully” with his remarks about Muslim women.

“The faith we follow is so strong [that] if someone describes Muslim women as looking like bank robbers, it is bullying people who have strong beliefs .

“Bullying them is not going to change their beliefs. If you are Muslim, you are god-fearing and you are not going to change what you do because of remarks made by Boris Johnson.

“He was singling people out because he thought the majority of people might hold the same views or find some truth in what he said.

“A bully should not be in charge of the country. You need someone who is neutral and listens to people and who will better the country and bring people together.”

While Sobia was born and raised in Britain, she believes those who weren’t will feel particularly scared and intimidated by the prospect of Boris Johnson remaining in charge of the country.

She said: “When I was younger, my mum always used to say: ‘Even though we have moved to this country, never class it as your own because there will be a day when you feel you don’t belong.’

“It will be really sad if her words end up coming true because it will impact my children and future generations.” 

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Salma Sabiramodo

Her worries are echoed by Salma Sabiramodo, 26, a student finance advisor. Walking through the diverse streets of Whalley Range while on her way to catch a train, she told HuffPost Johnson’s comments about Muslims and Islam have left her feeling unsafe.

“If a prime minister is saying these sorts of things, it might make other people feel empowered to be racist towards Muslims,” she said.