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What can British Muslims expect from Boris Johnson's Conservative Party?

I worry about Mr Johnson's combination of lacking a moral compass, outstanding communication skills, and demonstrated ignorance of Muslim history.

Summary

Posted 11 August 2019

Middle East Eye ("MEE")describes itself as "an independently funded online news organisation that was founded in April 2014. We aim to be the primary portal of Middle East news and our target audience are all those communities of readers living in and around the region that care deeply for its fate."

However they also carry UK related articles, and one of my favourite journalists, Peter Oborne, regularly writes for MEE.

In July, MEE recently asked me for 800 words about what Boris Johnson's becoming Conservative Party Leader might mean for British Muslims. My contribution was published by MEE on 2 August 2019 after light editing by MEE.

I have reproduced below my original submission, amended by adopting MEE's main heading and sub-headings and by embedding BBC Radio 4's tweet.

What can British Muslims expect from Boris Johnson's Conservative Party?

His great communication skills, combined with significant historical ignorance about Islam, are a recipe for disaster

Since 1983 when I joined the Conservative Party, eight people have led it. I have had some policy differences with every leader, but that is normal. However, I consider Mr Johnson uniquely disqualified as Leader for two reasons:

  1. I believe that, rather like Donald Trump, he does not care about the distinction between truth and falsehood.
  2. I think he does not care about the harm he causes to others if he can advance his personal career. An example is his August 2018 article about Muslim women wearing niqab or burqa. Mr Johnson must have been able to foresee that it would lead to Muslim women being verbally abused on the streets, and physically assaulted. I believe he published the article to burnish his credentials with right-wing Conservatives in a leadership race.

 Morally unfit

"We don't expect our politicians, our prime ministers to be saints, but we do require a basic level of morality and integrity."

Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum @Mohammed_Amin criticises Boris Johnson for his previous remarks about Muslim women #r4today pic.twitter.com/QymezCbqle

— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) June 14, 2019

After I shared my thoughts about Mr Johnson on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, then Party Chairman Brandon Lewis pressurised the Conservative Muslim Forum into expelling me on 20 June. When Mr Johnson’s election as Leader was announced on 23 July, I immediately resigned from the Conservative Party because I refuse to be led by someone I regard as morally unfit for the role.

Many journalists have asked me whether I think Mr Johnson is Islamophobic. I have no reason to believe that Mr Johnson hates Muslims. However, with someone who speaks as inconsistently as Mr Johnson, one can never be sure what he thinks.

Frances Perraudin of The Guardian gave me extra insight into Mr Johnson’s ignorance about Muslim history earlier this month. She sent me his chapter “And then came the Muslims” which appeared in the 2007 edition of his book “The Dream of Rome.” See her subsequent article “Boris Johnson claimed Islam put Muslim world 'centuries behind'”.

Despite Mr Johnson purporting to write history, he shows great ignorance about the history of Muslims. It consists mainly of by detailed coverage of a few snippets that suit the picture Mr Johnson wants to paint, such as the comments of Pope Benedict XVI made in his lecture at Regensburg.

Mr Johnson appears to have based his chapter on the 1935 book “Mohammed and Charlemagne” by the French historian Henri Pirenne who, from the extracts Mr Johnson quotes, had his own preconceived views.

Dangerous writings

Reading Mr Johnson’s chapter, you would never know that from about 650 AD to about 1400 AD, the Arab Muslim world was far ahead of Christian Europe in science, technology and commercial organisation. (The reasons Muslims fell behind afterwards are complex, but Mr Johnson does not need to think about them, since his book chapter claims that Muslims had no interest in learning and were always behind.)

Because Mr Johnson writes in very colourful and entertaining language, with great verve, his writings are particularly dangerous. Any Britons relying upon his book chapter for their knowledge of Muslim history will acquire a wholly inaccurate knowledge of history, one which is likely to infect them with anti-Muslim attitudes.

His great communications skills combined with such historical ignorance make me think of the consequences of giving a 10-year-old a flame thrower as a present. The results will never be good.

On 18 June, during the Conservative Party Leadership Hustings on the BBC, Sajid Javid committed to holding an independent enquiry into Islamophobia within the Conservative Party if he became Leader, and “bounced” the other candidates into agreeing with him. However by 27 June Mr Johnson had back-pedalled, stating that he wanted a probe into all types of discrimination. This language is reminiscent of Jeremy Corbyn’s inability for many years to condemn antisemitism without also extending the sentence to condemn all other forms of racism.

Breaking the feedback loop

Looking at the big picture, the Conservative Party has only three Muslim MPs, compared with 12 for the Labour Party. I have not seen any data, but believe that the Conservative Party has proportionately fewer Muslim members than does Labour, and proportionately fewer Muslims as elected councillors. In the 2017 general election, 11% of Muslims voted Conservative compared with 85% Labour.

There is a “chicken and egg” problem. With fewer Muslims inside the Conservative Party, Conservatives generally have less exposure to Muslim colleagues, leading them to feel less comfortable with Muslims, leading Muslims to be less likely to join the Conservative Party.

Breaking this feedback loop requires Muslims to be resolute.

They should decide which political party to join based only on its general policies, setting aside how they think the party views Muslims. That is what I did in 1983, joining a Conservative Party that had vanishingly few members from any ethnic minorities. The party then changes by virtue of your membership. (Alongside other members.)

Mohammed Amin MBE
Mohammed Amin is the former Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum 
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

 

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