Alex Nelson: Johnson has been boasting about his Muslim heritage, but who exactly was his ancestor?

London(ANN)-Tuesday saw saw another candidate scythed from the race to become the next leader of the Conservative Party and the UK’s next Prime Minister.

Dominic Raab didn’t secure enough votes to see him keep his place in the contest, and we’re left with five.

Following the results of the vote, the quintet of hopefuls sat down for a televised debate, hosted by Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis.

Boris Johnson – the current front runner for the post – came under much scorn, particularly on the issue of Islamophobia, with previous comments made by the former Mayor of London coming under the spotlight.

Johnson was challenged by Abdullah, an imam from Bristol, on whether he accepted that his “words have consequences”, to which Boris said his comments were sometimes taken out of context.

But perhaps the most surprising revelation for casual viewers came when Johnson brought up his Muslim great grandfather, saying he came to Britain because it was “a beacon of generosity and openness”.

It was surprising for many reasons (not least because Johnson has previously compared Muslim women in burqas to “letterboxes”), so just who is this mysterious great-grandfather?

Who was Ali Kemal?

Johnson’s paternal great-grandfather was Ali Kemal, a journalist for the Ottoman Empire who worked mainly in the region that is now Turkey.

Born in 1867 to a mother of Circassian heritage (a region along the northeast shore of the Black Sea), Kemal’s journalism allowed him to travel extensively and took him to 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.

What did he do?

Kemal with his wife, Winifred Brun (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

It wasn’t just a life of journalism, and Kemal made the move into politics, perhaps foreshadowing his descendants’ similar career paths.

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

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

The Times described Kemal as one of the “leading men of letters in Turkey, an excellent speaker, and personally very popular”, and he was unanimously adopted as the representative of the Turkish parliamentary constituency that would become Istanbul by his Liberal Union party in 1909.

How did he die?

Kemal was outspoken against the waning Ottoman Empire, condemning the massacres of the empire’s Armenians during the First World War, and demanding that those responsible for the crimes be brought to prosecution and punishment.

He set up the The Anglophile Society, advocating British protectorate status for Turkey, and becoming public enemy number one to the nationalist movement that was gathering strength and fighting the Turkish War of Independence in the process.

Johnson uncovered his family history on ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ in 2008 (Photo: BBC)

On 4 November 1922, Kemal was kidnapped from a barber shop in Istanbul, and was to be taken to the Turkish city of Ankara for a trial on charges of treason.

But just two days into his transport, the party was intercepted. Kemal was attacked and lynched by a mob with sticks, stones and knives, eventually being stoned to death.

He would have been in his mid-50s at the time.

How is he related to Boris Johnson?

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was allied with Germany, and so Kemal’s son and daughter – who were living in England – adopted their maternal grandmother’s maiden name of Johnson.

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

Johnson’s heritage is not exactly hidden; in 2008 he took part in the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? series, unearthing his lineage for the first time.