Boris Johnson, the overwhelming favorite to take over as Britain’s prime minister next week, is facing renewed accusations of Islamophobia after claiming in a newly-unearthed 2007 text that the religion has left Muslim countries “centuries behind” the Western world.
In an updated version of “The Dream of Rome,” a book he wrote on the ancient capital, Johnson argued that “bitterness and confusion” had spread throughout Muslim nations, prompting their involvement in “virtually every” outbreak of global conflict.
In the chapter, brought to light by The Guardian, he added that “there must be something about Islam” that has prevented the Muslim world seeing a period of modernization as Christianity did from the 16th century, and that “there are many shameful things about modern interpretations of Islam.”
CNN has contacted Johnson’s campaign team for comment.
In the 2007 piece, Johnson wrote: “The further the Muslim world has fallen behind, 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.”
Comparing the evolution of Christian societies in Europe with Islamic countries in the Arab World, he added: “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 … Something caused them to be literally centuries behind.”
Barring a shock result, Johnson is expected to clinch the Conservative leadership next Wednesday. But his penchant for making racially insensitive remarks has frequently been criticized by his opponents, and the re-discovery of this text has reignited debate about his worldview.
Last year, he was condemned for likening Muslim women wearing veils to “letter boxes” and “bank robbers.”
He has also called people from the British Commonwealth “flag-waving piccaninnies,” referred to the “watermelon smiles” of people from the Congo, and suggested that former US President Barack Obama held an “ancestral dislike of the British Empire” because he was “part-Kenyan.”
Mohammed Amin, who has been chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, called the essay “low quality ‘cod history’ by someone pontificating on history without good knowledge,” and said Johnson was “trying to have it both ways again, liberal and illiberal in the same chapter.”
A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain added: “Many of us would be interested to find out whether Mr. Johnson still believes that Islam inherently inhibits the path to progress and freedom … We of course are of the view that Islam has a role to play in progress and prosperity, be that in the Muslim world or here at our home in the West.”
The book was first published in 2006, and coincided with a BBC documentary hosted by Johnson about the Roman empire. Johnson has written a number of historical books, including a biography of Winston Churchill.
Labour party peer Andrew Adonis criticized the politician on Twitter for “playing the same disgusting game as Trump,” though others noted Johnson’s central thesis – that Christianity underwent a dramatic modernization not seen in Islam – is accepted by many historians.
Johnson offered a partial apology for his past comments during the June launch of his campaign for leadership of the Conservative party, telling reporters he was “sorry for the offense that I’ve caused” but saying that the public appreciates him speaking “directly.”
He has since dominated the race to become Tory leader and Prime Minister, and is expected to dispatch his final challenger, Jeremy Hunt, when the results of the contest are announced next week.