It's time to hold him to account.
On Thursday, the Tory chancellor of the exchequer, Sajid Javid, told the Today programme: “We have a zero-tolerance policy against any type of prejudice or hatred.” He said that ‘the Prime Minister would never, ever tolerate’ Islamophobia.
Javid was not asked about what should be Exhibit A in any discussion of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, an article written by Boris Johnson in the Spectator magazine back in July 2005.
Johnson wrote, on 16th July 2005, just days after the 7/7 attacks in London which had killed 52 people on Tube trains and a London bus: “Islam is the problem.” That was not a throw-away line, it was one of the main themes of the article.
Johnson wrote that non-Muslims needed to dispose of ‘the first taboo’ and accept ‘the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem.’
He went on: “To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia – fear of Islam – seems a natural reaction, and, indeed, exactly what that text is intended to provoke. Judged purely on its scripture – to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques – it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions in its heartlessness towards unbelievers.”
Johnson wrote: “We look in vain for the enlightened Islamic teachers and preachers who will begin the process of reform…. When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s mediaeval ass?”
On 1 December, Andrew Marr quite rightly asked Boris Johnson about this article, one of the very few times it has been raised in the mainstream media.
Johnson refused to explain his position. He replied to Marr: “Look, people are always going to drag out bits and pieces that I’ve written over the years in order to distract from the fundamental issues at this election.”
It’s true that in April 2008, while running to become Mayor of London (a city with 600,000 Muslim residents), Johnson conveniently put forward a completely different view, without explaining how or why he’d changed his mind.
He said in a mayoral debate: “I deeply believe that Islam is a religion of peace…. I’m not saying Islam is itself the problem: the problem is people who wrench out of context quotes from the Holy Book of Islam, the Koran, and use it to inspire evil in men’s hearts.”
Boris Johnson has been repeatedly and rightly criticised for what he wrote in the Telegraph [paywall] in August 2018 about Muslim women who wear the face veil. (Readers will be well aware that Islamophobic incidents spiked after Johnson’s ‘letter box’ remarks.)
Johnson should be being asked in every interview why he wrote that ‘Islam is the problem’; why he argued that Islam is ‘the most viciously sectarian of all religions’; and why he called for ‘all the preachers in all the mosques, extremist or moderate, [to] acculturate themselves more closely to what we think of as British values’.
Milan Rai is the editor of Peace News and the author of 7/7: The London Bombings, Islam and the Iraq War (Pluto, 2006). He is an atheist from a Hindu background.
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