It is a sensation and dream for some, a shock for others:
In an election between a Muslim born to poor Pakistani immigrants and a native son born into a billionaire family, Londoners voted overwhelmingly for the former to become mayor. In the largest city of Europe and the UK.
Only 12.4 percent Londoners are Muslim, adding up to one million out of 8,1 million. 35 percent were born overseas. 45 percent are “white British”. London is a melting pot with 300 languages spoken. It is posh only inside, run-down poor often in the suburbs outside of Kensington and Chelsea. Very expensive to live there too. Few rich, many struggle to finance life. This unique city was for eight years ruled by a popular conservative mayor, and now by Labour again.
Deeply honoured to take this oath. I will be a Mayor for all Londoners. pic.twitter.com/u1GXBkRvDZ
— Sadiq Khan MP (@SadiqKhan) 7. Mai 2016
At a time when anti-Islamic sentiment is on the rise in much of the western world, that is significant development, even if it comes in an ethnically and religiously diverse metropolis.
Sadiq Khan, a former Labour MP and human rights lawyer, defeated Zac Goldsmith, a conservative MP and former environmental activist.
Khan, who beat Goldsmith about 57-43, is now the first Muslim mayor of London.
He won the job even after Goldsmith and other conservative politicians tried to link him to Islamist extremists. The Tory candidate had claimed Mr Kahn as a “real danger to London.” Some talked about the “First Muslim Mayor of Londonistan”.
But that effort clearly failed, as the final vote plainly shows, and it may have actually inspired backlash. Even Goldsmith’s own sister publicly criticized him for what many called a “dog-whistle” campaign.
First, here’s some important background
- Khan, 45, grew up in a family of Pakistani immigrants with eight children in public housing. His father was a bus driver and his mother was a seamstress.
- He was a human rights lawyer focusing on discrimination, civil rights, and other social-justice issues
- His most high-profile case as a lawjer came in 2002, when he represented Louis Farrakhan, the controversial American head of the Nation of Islam Mr Khan, as Farrakhan fought a government ban on entering the U.K. That case has fueled the wider criticism that he’s too willing to associate with people viewed as radical.
- He was elected to a local council at only 23 and later served as a member of parliament and a minister of state for transportation
- Zac Goldsmith, 41, is the son of Sir James Goldsmith, a financier, magazine publisher, and politician, and Annabel Goldsmith, an aristocrat.
- He previously wrote about environmental issues as a journalist before winning a seat in parliament
- While issues such as housing and transportation played a major role in the campaign, they were largely overshadowed by repeated criticisms that Khan has associated with Islamic extremists
- Khan called such attempts “Donald Trump-style” antics in response
- Khan said in a Facebook post after his win that his election demonstrated a victory of “hope over fear”
So, what exactly were these criticisms?
- A lot of them stem from events he attended as a Labour MP and controversial clients (like Farrakhan)
- He once attended four meetings organized by Stop Political Terror, a group backed by the radical American imam Anwar al-Awlaki, the famous Jihadi propagandist who was later killed in a controversial U.S. airstrike in Yemen
- Stop Political Terror later merged with a group called Cage, an organization that called Jihadi John a “beautiful man,” according to the Telegraph
- Khan has repudiated the organizations but defended going to events thrown by them as part of a campaign to stop the extradition of Babar Ahmad, one of his constituents, to the U.S. Ahmad later pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges.
- A Khan spokesman argued that the events also featured Tory speakers as well, and the campaign against the US-UK extradition treaty was supported by Goldsmith himself.
- British Prime Minister David Cameron also said Khan had attended nine events with Sulaiman Ghani, an imam from Khan’s constituency whom Cameron has accused of supporting ISIS
- Khan dismissed these comments as a “Donald Trump approach to politics because it seeks to divide communities rather than unite them.”
- Ghani has called that accusation a lie, demanded an apology and even threatened to sue if Cameron does it again, but he also said relations between he and Khan are icy now because Khan supports gay marriage
- Goldsmith added fuel to the fire when he said Khan’s association with Ghani shows “he has given platform, oxygen and cover to people who are extremists.”
- Those comments came from a widely reported interview with the Evening Standard in which he also said: “The questions are genuine, they are serious. They are about his willingness to share platforms with people who want to ‘drown every Israeli Jew in the sea.’”
- But shortly after Goldsmith’s comments became public, Ghani posted a photo of himself standing alongside Goldsmith
- Goldsmith also accused Khan of hiring someone who believes the brutal murder of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby at the hand of two Muslims was fabricated. The aide, Shueb Salar, resigned in March
- Khan also spoke at a conference alongside Yasser al-Sirri, who subsequently said that Osama bin Laden “died an honourable death,” according to the Telegraph.
- He also spoke at an event with Sajeel Abu Ibrahim, who reportedly ran a terrorist camp in Pakistan linked to the 2005 London bombings, according to the Telegraph.
The list of meetings as long, but voters ultimately decided the idea that Khan himself harbored views of radicalism was far-fetched.
- As a human rights lawyer and activist, member of parliament or politician you sometimes share a conference or meeting with people who do not share your political opinion. This was the case with Khan.
- Nobody blames Reagan for becoming a communist meeting Mr. Gorbatchev. Meetings do not matter, when the person has a clear voice in favor of freedom, liberty and human rights.
- On the contrary it is necessary to contain radicals by confronting them in the public.
- “As a British Muslim I will take the fight to the extremists”, he said. He was “disturbed” by the number of people wearing jihabs and niqabs in the streets. Khan promised: “On day one I am going to put us on a war footing these (jihadi) terrorist.”
Why did 1.3 million Londoners vote for Khan, and less than 1 million for Goldsmith?
It’s also quite likely that Londoners — fed up over high rent and transportation issues — really wanted a change after eight years of Boris Johnson and the conservatives.
With all those other concerns, Khan’s past associations may have sounded like nothing but noise from a losing candidate.
The new Muslim major should give many clear signs against extremism in London now and again and again.
Thus isolating any radicals – Islamist and nationalists – and activate the silent majority, who share the same values of human dignity and tolerance as Christians, Muslims or Jews.
He should become the number one promotor of tolerance in the United Kingdom.