Boris accused of ‘smear on Islam’
Cranmer urged and begged Boris Johnson to run for the office of Mayor of London, and, as he promised, His Grace has prayed every day for him since his candidature was confirmed. It remains His Grace’s conviction that in a democracy God gives people the governments they deserve, and the people of London now deserve a man of conviction, honesty and integrity.
That man is Boris Johnson.
But it is not remotely surprising that Ken Livingstone is cheating and lying as he seeks to smear the Conservative candidate, not least because Boris Johnson represents the most credible threat to Mr Livingstone’s private fiefdom since the office of Mayor was created.
The row centres upon an article Mr Johnson wrote for The Spectator in the wake of the July 7th bombings - 'Just don't call it war'.
The accusation is that while Mayor Livingstone was making his tearful statement exhorting the people of London to unity in the face of adversity, Mr Johnson was sowing discord. While the Mayor was proclaiming ‘our defiance and our unwillingness to submit to that kind of terror and kind of cowardly attack’, Mr Johnson was blaming the Qur’an. While the Mayor said the bombings were ‘a criminal act by a handful of men’, Mr Johnson said: ‘Islam is the problem... and the Qur’an is inherently violent’. The Mayor ‘made certain that we were looking at individuals’, while Mr Johnson ‘smeared an entire faith’.
Mr Johnson subsequently accused the Mayor of ‘demeaning’ his office, and took ‘deep offence’ at the Mayor’s claim that he had said the Qur’an was ‘inherently’ violent. He added: ‘My view is that Islam is a religion of peace and indeed I am very proud to say I have Muslim ancestors. My great-grandfather knew the Qur’an off by heart, Ken Livingstone, and I really wish you would leave off these kinds of tactics, which demean this race and demean your office.’
This is interesting not only because of the Mayor’s misrepresentation of the Spectator article, but because Mr Johnson is discovering the difficulties for journalists of entering politics: their words come back to haunt them.
The Spectator article is accurate and forthright; it is bold and uncompromising; it is everything one can no longer be in politics. Mr Johnson wrote:
‘The Islamicists last week horribly and irrefutably asserted the supreme importance of that faith, overriding all worldly considerations... the problem is Islam. Islam is the problem.
‘To any non-Muslim reader of the Koran, Islamophobia - fear of Islam - seems a natural reaction...
‘Judged purely on its scripture — to say nothing of what is preached in the mosques — it is the most viciously sectarian of all religions
‘The trouble with this disgusting arrogance and condescension is that it is widely supported in Koranic texts, and we look in vain for the enlightened Islamic teachers and preachers who will begin the process of reform. What is going on in these mosques and madrasas? When is someone going to get 18th century on Islam’s mediaeval ass?’
Politicians can no longer talk in such terms; Paul Goodman and Michael Gove would not dare. To refer to Islam (the faith) as 'visciously sectarian' is not conducive to winning the Muslim vote, and such phrases potentially undermine David Cameron's painstaking overtures to minority ethnic groups.
Of course Mr Johnson distinguishes between ‘Islamicist nutters’ and the moderate majority, and he added: ‘Last week's bombs were placed neither by martyrs nor by soldiers, but by criminals. It was not war, but terrorism, and to say otherwise is a mistake and a surrender.’ But this conclusion is lost on the Mayor, and there is sufficient in the article for him to excise sentences from their context and convey them as the smearing of an entire faith.
Mr Johnson’s mistake in his polemic was to ignore the history and the theology. Had he once used the phrase ‘classical Islam’ or referred to the ‘classical interpretation of Islam’, he would have been on safer ground, for it is indeed true that classical Islam has always been an ideology that aims at world domination - if necessary by force. As Martin Parsons observes: ‘If an “enemy” is to be defined, then the enemy is not Muslims, but the classical interpretation of Islam.’
It is important to distinguish between this historic interpretation of Islam and the views of ordinary Muslims in the West today. Mr Parsons states: ‘For the masses Islam has more often than not taken on a traditional form, where people believe in God, concern themselves with prayer and with the other basic devotional duties of Islam, but do not bother much with legal, political or military requirements.’
Patrick Sookhdeo suggests that the current threat to the west is due to ‘a puritan form of Islam re-emphasising the literal teaching of the Qur'an and Hadith, as classical Islam in countries such as Saudi Arabia has always done’.
When Mr Johnson referred to ‘Islam’s mediaeval ass’, he was doubtless alluding to this classical interpretation, but it was all too subtle for the crude cut-and-thrust of politics, and way beyond the mental capacity of a cerebral dwarf like Ken Livingstone.