Wed 27 January 2021

With Islamophobia rife in the Conservative Party, and its leader mocking Muslim women as ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’, Alex Tiffin looks back on Johnson’s history of prejudice.

In 2005, then MP for Henley, the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote in the Daily Telegraph that: “We should forbid the imams from preaching sermons in anything but English” described British Muslims as being part of a “multicultural apartheid”.

These and other newly unearthed comments will raise questions about Boris Johnson’s general attitude towards Muslims and whether he can be trusted as Prime Minister..

Last year, as he fired his opening shot to replace Theresa May after resigning from her Cabinet, Johnson’s faced widespread criticism when he likened Muslim women who wear the Burqa to “bank robbers” and “letterboxes.” According to Tell MAMA, hate crimes towards Muslims rose by 375% following Johnson’s letterbox jibe. Even after making the comments, Mr Johnson doubled down and defended them.

Since becoming Prime Minister, questions have been raised as to whether he takes the issue of Islamophobia seriously, and more importantly, has he contributed to it. During the Conservative Party leadership contest, Johnson and the other candidates promised that they would commission an independent investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

However, just last week it was confirmed that the report had been changed to look at “all forms of prejudice”.

Moreover, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who became the first Muslim Cabinet Minister under David Cameron, has criticized her party on a weekly, almost daily basis for their inaction towards Islamophobia.

‘Blinkered Education’

The article can be found on an archive of every article and press release Boris Johnson or his office released between January 2004 and March 2016.

Entitled ‘The British Dream: We Must All Speak the Same Language‘ was published in an August 2005 edition of the Daily Telegraph.

From the title, one might assume that Johnson, who was then the MP for Henley, was talking about immigrants and their non-use of English. However, he seems to have specifically targeted Asians and specifically Muslims.

Johnson’s piece starts off reflecting, after a school pageant for his seven-year-old child, whether the school was rewriting history by talking about Mary Seacole, a black nurse born in Jamaica in 1805 who like Florence Nightingale went to help soldiers during the Crimean War”.

To his credit, Johnson goes on to admit that his own “blinkered education” led him to his initial thoughts that this was just “political correctness”. Despite this concession his children were being educated properly, Johnson emphasises the fact that “above all, the whole thing was conducted in English”.

This seems a rather odd thing to point out. After all, all UK schools teach in English, even Welsh and Gaelic schools will conduct some lessons in the English language.

After this, Johnson takes aim at a specific minority group – Muslims.

Johnson Singles Out British Muslims

Johnson starts by questioning the community’s loyalty to the Queen, and the “need to inculcate… Britishness, especially into young Muslims”. But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on to call for change to how Muslims practice their own faith.

We should forbid the imams from preaching sermons in anything but English; because if you want to build a society where everyone feels included, and where everyone shares in the national story, we cannot continue with the multicultural apartheid.”

As a Muslim who has been to many UK mosques, I can confirm that Imams will usually speak in English most of the time. When they don’t, they translate everything they say into English.

Why? Because British Muslims themselves speak English and may not know Arabic. Some of the bigger Mosques also have a British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Low and behold that translates into English.

Yes, the Quran is written in Arabic and prayers are conducted in Arabic, but you learn what they both mean in English. True, there are some people who may know the words to say but have absolutely no idea what they are saying. They, like me, learned from a translation and then slowly understood the meanings of particular words and phrases.

From Cultural Apartheid to the Great Replacement Theory

To call for Imams to speak only in English is, in my opinion, islamophobic.

It would be anti-semitic to call for Jewish sermons to be conducted only in English rather than Hebrew. What of Johnson’s hallowed Latin that is still used in parts of Christian faith? What of Greek, Orthodox Russian or Armenian prayers? He doesn’t call for these to be banned because, like many others on the right of UK politics, he has an issue with Muslims.

As for attributing ‘multicultural apartheid’ to Muslims, this is straight-up white supremacy rhetoric, akin to “the Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that Muslims are taking over Europe.

The far-right EDL founder Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (‘Tommy Robinson’) has used this type of rhetoric before. He recently endorsed of Boris Johnson for Prime Minister. Is it surprising that Johnson has failed to distance himself from Yaxley-Lennon’s endorsement?

It seems, after all, they share the same views.

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