In July 1995, Srebrenica experienced a genocide on a scale not seen in Europe since the Second World War. 8,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered, women were raped, children were killed in front of their parents, and bodies bulldozed into mass graves. The scale of the crimes exceeds comprehension.
Two years later, in 1997, Boris Johnson wrote an article challenging Bianca Jagger’s support for more direct intervention against the Serbian Army in the Bosnian war. In this, he wrote: “Alright, I say, the fate of Srebrenica was appalling. But they weren’t exactly angels, these Muslims.”
One must ask how someone could blame the victims of a genocide for such depraved abuse? What could these thousands of unarmed men, women, and children have done to be deserving of such a fate?
Tonight, the prime minister will be attending the national Srebrenica memorial day event held by Remembering Srebrenica to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the massacre. Having made such comments, one must also ask how Boris Johnson can now publicly attend such an event in good conscience without first apologising for his previous remarks?
Myself and over 30 other MPs have written to the prime minister to ask precisely this question. We believe he must apologise immediately.
This is not an isolated example of Boris Johnson’s historic attitude towards Muslims and minorities. He has an infamously long and embarrassing history of racist, Islamophobic, and prejudicial statements directed at minority groups. He has acquired a reputation for racist comments, having discussed people from the Congo possessing “watermelon smiles” and claiming the Queen loves touring the Commonwealth because of the “cheering crowds of flag-waving piccaninnies.”
When it comes to Muslims, our prime minister has claimed Muslim countries are “literally centuries behind”, and asserted that “fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction.” He has also compared Muslim women to letterboxes and bank robbers.
In what should have been a promising gesture, the prime minister recently announced the establishment of a cross-government inquiry into racial inequality in the UK, but then appointed Munira Mirza to lead the commission. Given Ms Mirza has previously denounced institutional racism as a “myth”, it is difficult to take any commitment from the prime minister seriously when it comes to matters of equality.
On the anniversary of an event as significant as the Srebrenica genocide, his history of prejudicial comments and attitudes makes it all the more painful to see our prime minister attending this event. To do so without reflecting upon his previous comments is little more than an insult to the victims and their families who continue to suffer the consequences to this day.
It is also an insult to all minority communities in this country who must watch their prime minister’s insincerity when he makes such empty gestures of acceptance and understanding.
My colleagues and I have said in our letter to Mr Johnson, for the country to have any confidence in his leadership, he must immediately and unreservedly apologise for these statements that do nothing but drive a wedge through our communities and make minority communities vulnerable to hatred and abuse.
Tony Lloyd is a Labour Party politician, currently serving as MP for Rochdale.