The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has once again waded into controversy with his usual subtlety and delicate touch, this time making bizarre and seriously misjudged comparisons between the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram, and the behavior of the BBC. Hitting two birds with one stone he simultaneously weighed in on the latest racial argument to rock the British broadcasting company, as well as the current furor surrounding the Boko Haram terrorists and their mass kidnappings of Nigerian school girls. According to the Conservative politician, the BBC’s treatment of a radio DJ who unwittingly played a 1980s version of The Sun Has Got His Hat On which contained the N-word, is comparable to the “inconsistency” of Boko Haram. Johnson also dubbed the Islamic extremists “Nigerian maniacs” and claimed that there was “no logic” in their beliefs as they use weapons supplied by the very countries they constantly criticize. He then went on to say that a similar lack of logic was evident within the BBC and that their behavior was evidence of the “Boko Haram world” which Britain has become, fueled by a “torrent” of public “outrage.”
In his regular column for the British right-leaning newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, Johnson mused on the “disgraceful” way in which the BBC has handled two very similar instances of offensive racial language in the last couple of weeks. When Jeremy Clarkson ignited a row over his use of the N-word during an out-take of Top Gear he faced a fervent backlash from the media, a situation Johnson describes as victimization by “self-appointed internet witch doctors.” Despite the fury in the Twitterverse, Clarkson was not punished by the BBC, instead receiving a fairly lame slap on the wrist and threats of a final warning. In comparison, radio DJ, David Lowe, was pressured to quit his job after playing a song which he did not realize contained the same offensive term Clarkson used. The disparity between the cases is marked and certainly does not reflect well on the BBC. Johnson states the situation is “utterly disgraceful” and believes the entire executive board should travel to Devon (where Lowes worked) and apologize in person as well as offering the DJ his job back. While it remains to be seen if the apology will materialize, the corporation has said they would reinstate Lowes should he so desire, however, the DJ has claimed that he turned them down as the entire debacle has exacerbated a previous stress condition from which he suffers.
While Johnson does have a legitimate point about the unfair treatment of Lowe, he has once again used deliberately inflammatory rhetoric in order to draw attention to his argument and in doing so has completely undermined the horrendous plight of over 200 school children. The BBC might suffer from an over-zealous political correctness (although both stated instances are open to debate), but for Johnson to make a comparison between their peace-keeping desires and the abhorrent crimes of Boko Haram is not only bizarrely tenuous in its connections but is dangerously close to being extremely offensive. To put things in perspective, the Nigerian terrorist group does not allow Muslims to partake in any social or political activities which are connected to Western ideology; the organization has murdered over 1,500 people this year alone, and is known specifically for targeting women, children and educational institutes in Nigeria. Many of the girls they kidnapped have already been sold into slavery, sexually trafficked to other countries or forcibly married to Boko Haram members after being made to convert to Islam. So when an upper-class, white, male politician makes off-hand comments about how the British people have gone “loco – or perhaps the word is boko” it comes across with unbelievable insensitivity and a distasteful need for attention and shock value.
As well, although Johnson might deride the power of public protest (the words “tube strike” come to mind), by claiming people in power are “terrified” into compliance with these politically correct demands, he seems to conveniently forget that the precise purpose of politicians is to serve the electorate. The fact that more people than ever before have access to various forms of social media just means that their voices are harder for him and his Etonian cronies to ignore as they sip champagne while comparing the public to a militant, terrorist organization. His assertions on the “semi-religious fervor” with which people maintain the prohibition of using the N-word in society are characteristic of this broad dismissal of opinions from large swathes of the population he supposedly represents.
The heinous nature of the crimes which Boko Haram have committed, the mass school girl kidnapping being just one in a long list, are not in any way comparable to the disputes over how the BBC conducts their business. Boris Johnson should know better by now, but has displayed his usual ability to make light of even the most serious of situations and draw comparisons that are bizarre, inappropriate and unnecessary, thereby managing to both over-estimate the gravity of the problems within the BBC and belittle the significance of the crimes committed by Boko Haram. Well done, Boris.
Commentary by Rhona Scullion