The conservative leadership contest in the UK for Prime Minister has come to an end, with Boris Johnson being elected Prime Minister. The contest has heavily featured discussion around Islamophobia, specifically centred around Johnson.
In an article published during the lead up in the Huffington Post titled “What a Boris Johnson Premiership Means for British Muslims”, Fiyaz Mughal, head of Tell MAMA UK, described an “underlying thread of apprehension that rests within large sections of Muslim communities around a Boris Johnson premiership”, attributing it to his comments on Muslim women, when he compared those who wore niqab to “letterboxes” as well as dog whistle politics of his leadership campaign, when he said he would be”speaking his mind” on matters, the kind of language that would resonate by those that believe political correctness is hindering honest discussion around immigrants and muslim and non-white communities.
Although Mughal was optimistic about Johnson’s premiership, he appears in the minority. An old essay written by Johnson in 2007, in which he argues that Islam has caused the Muslim world to be “literally centuries behind” has been brought to light by the Guardian, which has been widely shared, which also suggests that “Muslim grievance” was a factor in almost every conflict. This has been widely critiqued:
"Islam kept Muslim world centuries behind the west” – Boris Johnson MP
Islam gave us:
Algorithms > computers
Sugar + Paper mills
Something stinks of bigotry.
— Hasan Patel 🌹 (@CorbynistaTeen) July 16, 2019
Shameful and ignorant. The only person "centuries behind" is Boris Johnson. https://t.co/eRrshJHLx5
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) July 16, 2019
In the essay, Johnson also quotes Winston Churchill’s claim that there was “no stronger retrograde force” in the world than Islam, suggesting that having a Muslim great grandfather should shield him against being accused of Islamophobia.
The Guardian quotes the Muslim Council of Britain as saying that many still wanted to know if Johnson still believed “Islam inherently inhibits the path to progress and freedom”. In response to the essay, Tell MAMA has also said Johnson’s assertion of Islam were misinformed and “shows a lack of understanding of Islam”, and that his comments suggests Muslims were “mentally constrained by Islam”.
What is clear is that concerns regarding anti-Muslim hatred is not confined to Boris Johnson, but the conservative Party as a whole. A poll released this month, carried out by YouGov for the anti-racism group Hope Not Hate, also found that more than two-thirds of Tory members believe the myth that parts of the UK are under Sharia law, and 45% think some areas are not safe for non-Muslims. The survey also found that half of the party’s members think that Islamophobia is a big issue, but only 8% believe it is a problem within the party.
During the leadership TV debate, Tory leadership candidates had committed to commissioning an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative party after home secretary, Sajid Javid, a Muslim, asked his rivals to support this. Johnson was mocked for mentioning his great grandfather when discussing Islamophobia in the debate, as well as the other candidates in mentioning similar tenuous links, seen as a mark of disingenuity:
Boris Johnson: "My great-grandfather was a Muslim"
Jeremy Hunt: "My wife is Chinese"
Sajid Javid: "My parents were Muslim and immigrants."
Michael Gove: "My friend is a Muslim"
Rory Stewart: "As-salamu alaykum!"
— DOAM (@doamuslims) June 19, 2019
With Boris Johnson’s background, it appears that many fear the problem of Islamophobia will only be exacerbated under his premiership. Indeed, responses on twitter to the news he has been elected to Prime Minister appears to suggest that this is what those on both sides of the spectrum expect:
As a Saudi-Brit Muslim, I am deeply concerned of #BorisJohnson as PM.
He's demeaned women in our community. He continues to arm #SaudiArabia at the expense of Muslim lives in #Yemen. Even May couldn't deny his #Islamophobia when pressed by @RuthCadbury at #PMQs.@a_leesha1
— Saudi Labourite🌹 (@GhasMoh) July 24, 2019
You go Boris! Out of the EU and out with Muslims!
Boris Johnson officially becomes Prime Minister, pledges 'modern Britain' cabinet with pro-Brexit tilthttps://t.co/KUofNHg5H0
— Keesha@Keeshadoggie (@KeeshaYodabarb) July 24, 2019