Johnson says Islam has kept countries “centuries behind” the West and is the greatest impediment to the development of the Muslim world.
Rabat – UK newspaper the Guardian has unearthed deeply Islamophobic comments made in recent years by Boris Johnson.
Conservative member of parliament Johnson is the frontrunner to replace Theresa May as Britain’s Prime Minister.
While Islamophobia and anti-immigrant flavored claims are anything but alien to Johnson’s decidedly rightwing rhetoric, the latest comments delve much more profoundly into what Britain’s to-be-PM thinks of the wider Muslim world.
Johnson claims countries where Islam is the main religion have historically espoused “a fatal religious conservatism” that leaves little or no room for the kind of progress and prosperity witnessed in the West.
The Guardian’s report found that the British politician claimed that Islam is the main explanatory factor of the Muslim’ world inferiority when compared to Roman—by extension Western—achievements. The comments were found in an essay included in “The Dream of Rome,” a book Johnson wrote in 2006 as he praised Roman history and civilization.
Islam inherently inhibits the path to the type of accomplishments that have made the West proud, one can read in the infamous essay. Johnson’s central point is that Islam is the single reason, and the most compelling case for why, in his opinion, the West has outpaced the Muslim world in many areas.
‘And then came the Muslims’
Or, as Johnson went on to postulate in an essay called “And then Came the Muslims,” which was added to the 2007 edition of his book, “There must be something about Islam that indeed helps to explain why there was no rise of the bourgeoisie, no liberal capitalism and therefore no spread of democracy in the Muslim world.”
One unmistakable watershed moment in world history is the Romans’ success story, the essay argued. The Roman, or Byzantine, Empire epitomized the best the world could offer or be at that particular point in history, Johnson rhapsodized.
He presents the episode as a tale of unvarnished prosperity and a flourishing, with Romans charming the world with its arts and way of life, so making Istanbul an enlightened, revered city with the empire making its impact felt throughout the world.
Under the Ottomans (who were Muslims), however, Istanbul was no longer the city it once was; it lost most of its cultural prestige and lagged behind in scientific progress and human ingenuity, according to his claims.
The explanation for so striking a contrast is self-evident as far as Johnson is concerned. “Something caused them to be literally centuries behind,” he wrote. That “something” was Islam, according to the British politician.
Apparently aware of the backlash such views were set to trigger, Johnson tried at some point to find refuge in the fact that his great grandfather, Ali Kemal, was of Turkish origin and therefore Muslim. Instead of quickly painting him with the Islamophobia brush and dismissing his essay’s central premise, he seemed to offer, it would perhaps be better to look at the evidence without passion or emotion.
Once this is done, Johnson maintained, it would be easy enough to agree with historic figures like Winston Churchill about the fact that Islam is indeed the main problem with the Muslim world. (Churchill once said that there is “no stronger retrograde force” than Islam.)
“It is time to get deep down and dirty and examine the central charge made by everyone from Winston Churchill to the Pope, namely that the real problem with the Islamic world is Islam,” the essay hammered. “We must be honest and accept that there is more than a grain of truth in Churchill’s analysis of the economic and social consequences of the religion.”
The unearthing of these viciously Islamophobic ideas have—predictably—ignited debate in Britain over what Johnson’s premiership would mean for Britain’s Muslims.
The question, although differently phrased, has been about what the country’s Muslim citizens would make of a PM who seems to identify with forces (white-supremacy, for example) that contest their claim to equal humanity.
In the heat of the Tory (conservative) leadership contest in what could be post-Brexit Britain, what, by extension, does it mean for the country to have a section of its parliament elect a PM who brazenly holds in contempt a religion practiced by a sizable portion of its populations?
Tell Mama, a body that monitors anti-Muslim discourse and hatred in the UK, said that Johnson’s views show a deep lack of understanding of the religion in question.
“There are many Muslims whom Islam has inspired to produce some of the most beautiful art forms in their love for life and beauty. We hope Johnson works to support all communities in the future, and we are here to assist and support that,” the body pointed out.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), for its part, visibly dismayed by the blithe anti-Muslim rhetoric underpinning Johnson’s points, rhetorically queried whether the country’s sure-to-be-PM still holds these views. “Many of us would be interested to find out whether Mr. Johnson still believes that Islam inherently inhibits the path to progress and freedom.”
Johnson has been here before
It is unclear whether Johnson would be as brazen in his future public statements as Britain’s highest ranking politician.
However, there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that the controversial views may well be the cornerstone of Johnson’s political philosophy—at least on deeply divisive questions like the meaning of British identity or the role of religion in public. He is no stranger to such backlash, and his views have apparently not changed despite the constant scrutiny.
While on a visit to Myanmar in September 2017, Johnson, who was then Britain’s Foreign Secretary, awkwardly and “inappropriately” recited “The Road to Mandalay,” a Rudyard Kipling poem suffused with nostalgia about Britain’s lost colonial empire.
“It was stunning he would do that there,” one official said at the time. The official highlighted that Johnson evinced “an incredible lack of understanding,” no less because the poem he viewed as “good stuff” carried a history of violence and national “humiliation and insult” within the Burmese national imaginary.
Much more recently, in August of last year, Johnson ignited another media firestorm on British identity and Islam in a column where he likened women wearing the Burqa, a Muslim head covering which leaves only the eyes visible, to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”
The column received a tide of backlash from the British political commentariat and policy circles. Some critics called Johnson out for the “ugly and naked Islamophobia” of his remarks.
Others, however, took a more cynical stance. Although they were outraged by the anti-Muslim undertone of the column, they resigned to the fact that the outrageous comments and the reactions that ensued were “all business as usual.” The suggestion, unmistakably, is that critics could whine and call out the outrage for what it is, but no substantive change would follow.