On Friday 6 May 2016, Sadiq Khan was declared Mayor of London, the “first Muslim mayor of a major European city”.Khan was born in London, where he has lived most of his life.He is of Pakistani heritage, and the son of a ‘working class’ bus driver and a seamstress who had come to London in search of a better life. Like Dick Whittington, a character famous in British story-telling who gradually rose from poverty to be elected mayor of London, through kindness, honesty and hard work, Khan started from a humble beginning, growing up in a south London council estate and attending a comprehensive school-Ernest Bevin College. He worked hard and graduated in Law from The University of North London.
After graduation, he started his professional career as a human rights lawyer before joining the Labour Party and steadily ascended the leadership ladder. Khan became transport Minister in 2009 under the Leadership of the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown, then Campaign Manager for Ed Miliband and Justice Minister in 2010 under Miliband’s leadership. No stranger to bullying, which he suffered as a child, Sadiq Khan defied and rose above the racist and islamophobicslurs and slander, and fear-mongering of the Conservative Party’s campaign to get Zac Goldsmith elected as Mayor.
Reactions to his election have been varied. The London community, including priests and Rabbis, and Muslim Imams and other prominent community figures, both male and female, seemed to welcome him with open arms and warm smiles at The Southwark Cathedral, at his signing in ceremony. Many congratulations were sent via Twitter and Facebook, and by other means from all over the world, including from Hillary Clinton. Many said it was a great victory over islamophobia.
However, predictably,the Britain First candidate turned his back in protest during Sadiq Khan’s victory speech, when the result was announced, and David Cameron was seemingly not enthusiastic about congratulating Sadiq Khan and wish him well in his new position. The political right in America and France also expressed concern, and dismay, mainly insinuating that London is being taken over by Muslims, and even bitterness and shock from a well-known French academic, Alain Finkielkraut, in a recent television interview, who said, ‘“this image of the victory of the Muslim poor over the rich Jew leaves me with a bitter taste”.
Sadiq Khan is a man of the people, he can understand their problems, and has been known to stand up for the underdog, is well experienced and a competent manager of people, and that is why they chose him. It should not be that hard to understand. His stated aim is to improve the lives of all Londoners. He was the best man running for the job, and Londoners put their trust in him, regardless of his faith.
But is this the first time a Muslim leader will run a major European city? Unfortunately this fact is missing in partial European history books. Before London,Rotterdam (Netherlands) appointed Ahmed Aboutalebin of Moroccan origin inOctober 2008 as its Mayor, and he still holds that position.During the long Islamic rule in Spain,Abd al-Rahman I served as Emir of Cordoba in 756. In Sicily Ja’far al-Kalbi (983–985) was its Emir and mayor of Palermo, the capital. Europeans are not expected to know these facts, as much of their history that is linked to the Islamic Civilization has been, until recently, deliberately left out of most widely read history books, including more than 700 years of Islamic influence on the culture of Europe, before and during the European Enlightenment.
Now the appointment of Sadiq Khan to a high profile position when the ‘legitimacy of British Muslims is being questioned as never before’ is highly significant.Sadiq Khan’s victory is a great one and we should be happy that an Islamophobic and scurrilous campaign against him by the Tories was thwarted by the good sense of Londoners.
Moreover, what is significant in the campaign was the way it was conducted by the two candidates especially the message of Khan’s opponent. Building on previous experience, Sadiq Khan seemed more confident and his campaign more effective. His opponents had nothing to criticize him for except his faith, Islam. Their mistakes made him look more positive and well-aware of the Londoner’s needs. His focus on highlighting day-to-day problems faced by people and offering practical solutions put him ahead of his opponents and made him look more genuine as a leader and a citizen of London.
In addition to being disengaged from the people of London, Zak Goldsmith’s campaign made grave mistakes by making groundless accusations about Khan attempting toassociate him with extremismand conveying the idea that he should be feared. This tactic involved even Prime Minister David Cameron and serving Mayor at the time, Boris Johnson.
David Cameron subscribed to the smear campaign against Sadiq Khan,by openly callingto British citizens to distance themselves from him, “It is very important that we don’t back these people and do not appear on platform with them. I have to say I am very concerned about candidate (Sadiq Khan) as Mayor of London” (Channel 4 news).
It is obvious that the Islamophobic attacks that Khan received during the campaign wouldn’t have been made towards a candidate from other faiths. The trend is unfortunately to demonise Islam and Muslims. The campaign turned into an attack on Islam instead of focusing the discussion on how to serve London citizens by developing the transport system, supporting the underprivilegedand protecting the environment. Similar to the USA presidential campaign, the heated debate was blown up out proportion by the media and turned into a crude stigmatization of Muslims.
By overwhelmingly voting for Sadiq Khan, Londoners have taught the Conservative Party a lesson in respect and decency. People’s power has transcended money, slur and Islamophobia.
The new mayor’s four years are going to be challenging not least in the next EU referendum.But to secure a lasting legacy, Khan must work tirelessly to serve the citizens of London who brought him to power. Khan’s victory challenges the increasing trend of right-wing groups in western politics. The Trump phenomenon in US has totally failed in Europe and is doomed to fail wherever people’s choice is given a chance without media or Islamophobic fear-mongering. Even Trump has now had to make a concession that if he becomes President of the United States, Mayor Sadiq Khan will be an exception to the ban on all Muslims entering the USA!
The prominent English actor Ian McKellencommented that ‘Khan’s win represents a new sort of England’ (The Guardian). In fact this is evidence that British citizens are resilient in the face of crude brainwashing, and that the British multi-culturalism model is definitely working and is increasingly setting a model for the rest of the world regarding Muslims’ and other minorities’ positive integration in Western societies.
This article was first published by thepeninsulaqatar.com.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.