"Boris Johnson is a racist who longs for the impossible return to an imaginary past"

"The hatred of particular identities" is exacerbated by "the language of denigration and division" used by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, observes the law professor and British essayist Philippe Sands, in a tribune to the "World".

Time to Reading 11 min.

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IA few years ago, I was lobbying in the delegates' lounge at the United Nations (UN) for the adoption of a resolution that would rid Mauritius and Africa of a last vestige of British colonialism: the archipelago of Chagos.

Our main adversary, the British Secretary of Foreign Affairs, proved in spite of himself to be the best advocate on the continent. Many diplomats remembered the article he had written a few years earlier (in 2002, when he was a simple member of Parliament) treating the residents of an African country of "Negroes" (picaninnies) at "Watermelon smile" (watermelon smile). Words are important and not forgotten, especially when they carry racist slurs.

This foreign secretary became, in June, the British prime minister. He is bound, by mutual admiration, to his American counterpart, the President of the United States, who also openly expresses his racist feelings.

Such a situation seemed inconceivable only a short time ago: the predecessors of these two leaders had committed, in the 1945 UN Charter, to "Respect human rights and fundamental freedoms regardless of race, sex, language or religion". But for some, the unimaginable has become the new normality.

Feelings against foreigners

This evolution dates from 2016, the referendum on Brexit and the US presidential election: a new space has opened up, nourished by the feelings of alienation and deprivation, and by the inequalities increasingly glaring.

The ridicule and hatred of particular identities have become part of everyday politics. Targeting groups of men and women because of their ethnicity, nationality or religion has become acceptable. In a few months, old feelings hostile to foreigners and migrants – especially Muslims – have been unleashed. A torrent of anti-Semitism has penetrated the main British opposition party, apparently tolerated by its leaders who refuse to react by effective measures.

Read also Antisemitism in Labor: an investigation opened by the London police

In Italy and France, racist songs have returned to the stadiums. It is as if in the United Kingdom, in the United States and in many other countries, what was not tolerated yesterday can today be expressed openly. The connection between cause and effect is not obvious, but the words, actions, and omissions of political leaders play their fateful role of legitimation.


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