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New British PM has Muslim ancestors: report

Updated July 24, 2019

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The newly elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a Muslim ancestral history and his grandparents were among the most important figures of the former Ottoman Empire, according to BBC Urdu.  — AFP/File
The newly elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a Muslim ancestral history and his grandparents were among the most important figures of the former Ottoman Empire, according to BBC Urdu. — AFP/File

KARACHI: The newly elected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has a Muslim ancestral history and his grandparents were among the most important figures of the former Ottoman Empire, according to BBC Urdu.

During a recent debate on television in connection with the Conservative Party elections, Mr Johnson referred to his Muslim ancestors, the report said.

The revelation raised many questions as Mr Johnson has often come under criticism — particularly on the issue of Islamophobia — with previous comments comparing Muslim women in burqas to “letterboxes”.

Boris Johnson’s great-grandfather held key positions in Ottoman Empire

According to the report, Mr Johnson’s paternal great-grandfather was Ali Kemal, a journalist and liberal politician of the Ottoman Empire who worked in the region that is now Turkey.

Born in 1867 to a mother of Circassian heritage, Mr Kemal’s journalism allowed him to travel extensively and he visited many countries.

One of his destinations was Switzerland, where he met Winifred Brun, an Anglo-Swiss woman and the daughter of a Margaret Johnson. They married in London in 1903.

Mr Kemal made a move into politics, perhaps foreshadowing his descendant’s similar career paths.

He acquired strong ‘liberal’ views early in his life, which triggered his exile from the Ottoman Empire.

However, when the rule of the Sultan, who had banished Mr Kemal, came to an end, the latter soon found himself to be one of the most prominent figures in Ottoman political life.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was allied with Germany, and so Mr Kemal’s son and daughter — who were living in England — adopted their matrilineal surname Johnson.

Mr Kemal’s son Wilfred Johnson (his middle name) married Irene Williams, and their son was Stanley Johnson, Boris’s father.

In 2008, Mr Johnson’s took part in the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? series, unearthing his lineage for the first time.

Published in Dawn, July 24th, 2019