Boris Johnson said Islam left Muslim world 'literally centuries behind'

Frontrunner for No 10 accused of 'promoting hatred' after claiming a 'Muslim grievance' has fuelled virtually every conflict

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Tuesday 16 July 2019 08:41 BST
Theresa May announces she will stand down as Conservative leader

Boris Johnson has been accused of “promoting hatred” after penning an essay arguing Islam caused the Muslim world to be “literally centuries behind” the West.

The frontrunner for No 10 claimed there was something about Islam that held back development in parts of the world, creating a “Muslim grievance” fuelling virtually every conflict.

“The more bitterness and confusion there has been, to the point where virtually every global flashpoint you can think of – from Bosnia to Palestine to Iraq to Kashmir – involves some sense of Muslim grievance,” Mr Johnson wrote, in 2006.

The comments were attacked by Tell Mama, an organisation which monitors anti-Muslim hate, which said he had demonstrated a lack of understanding of the religion.

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said people would want to know if the likely next prime minister still believed “Islam inherently inhibits the path to progress and freedom”.

And Mohammed Amin, a former chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said Mr Johnson's analysis risked “actively promoting hatred of Muslims”.

The controversy comes after he was accused of Islamophobia after he used a newspaper column to liken women wearing the burqa to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.

Mr Johnson wrote about the rise of Islam in an appendix added to The Dream of Rome, his 2006 book about the Roman empire, entitled And Then Came the Muslims, The Guardian revealed.

He wrote: “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.

“It is extraordinary to think that under the Roman/Byzantine empire, the city of Constantinople kept the candle of learning alight for a thousand years, and that under Ottoman rule, the first printing press was not seen in Istanbul until the middle of the nineteenth century. Something caused them to be literally centuries behind.”

The MCB said: “Many of us would be interested to find out whether Mr Johnson still believes that Islam inherently inhibits the path to progress and freedom.”

Tell Mama said the essay portrayed Muslims as “a wave or horde of rampaging Muslims, who had little time for the intricacies and legacies of civilisations like that of Rome".

Protesting that it suggested Muslims were somehow “mentally constrained by Islam", it said. “That shows a lack of understanding of Islam, and there are many Muslims whom Islam has inspired to produce some of the most beautiful art forms in their love for life and beauty.”

The campaign behind Mr Johnson, who is almost certain to be declared the new Tory leader and prime minister next week, did not respond to a request for comment.

In the essay, he also wrote: “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.

“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.”

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