A symbol of tolerance

Shahid M Amin

The election of a Muslim of Pakistani origin as the Mayor of London is an epoch-making event with far-reaching implications. Sadiq Khan won the election this month with 1.3 million votes as against 1.1 million for his opponent. It was the single biggest mandate that a British politician has ever received. He is the first Muslim to become elected mayor of a major Western capital. He does not drink, goes to the mosque for prayers and has performed Hajj. While Rotterdam in the Netherlands also has a Muslim mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, but he was appointed to the post and not elected.
Sadiq Khan’s parents, who came from India to Pakistan at the time of partition in 1947, later migrated to the UK where Sadiq was born in 1970. His father Amanullah Khan was a bus driver in London for 25 years and his mother worked as a seamstress. Sadiq studied law and came to media attention when he took up some human rights cases. He became active in the Labour Party and was thrice elected as member of British parliament. The 650-seat House of Commons at present has 13 Muslim MPs. Sadiq held important posts in the Labour Party government of Prime Minister Brown. He was Minister of State for Communities as also Transport.
London is not only the British capital but is also one of the foremost cities in the world. It is a centre of world finance and business. The mayor of London controls the police, transportation, housing, planning and tourism. In the election, Sadiq defeated Zac Goldsmith, the brother of Imran Khan’s ex-wife Jemima. The contrast between them could not have been more vivid. Zac Goldsmith is upper class, rich, and highly privileged whereas Sadiq Khan was the commoner who came up the ranks through sheer merit and hard work. As an admirer put it: “I think he is a good role model for lots of reasons. He is ethnic minority, didn’t go to Oxbridge, grew up in a council house, and has working-class roots.”
Zac Goldsmith did try some below-the-belt tactics and sought to cash on Islamophobia by suggesting that Sadiq had had links with Muslim extremists. But such innuendos might have backfired as suggested by the huge number of votes in favour of Sadiq Khan. Throughout the election campaign, Sadiq Khan made no secret of his Muslim faith. Earlier, when he joined the Privy Council, when he had to make an oath before the Queen, he asked to be sworn using a copy of the Koran. Sadiq Khan has also spoken of having multiple identities that coexist. “I am a Londoner, I am European, I am British, I am English, I am of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, and a husband.”
After winning the election, Sadiq Khan said: “I am so proud that London has today chosen hope over fear.” Indeed, his victory is a remarkable triumph over the racial and religious tensions that have bedevilled other European capitals. His victory is being scrutinised around the world, particularly in European countries struggling to integrate Muslim communities. Recently, there has been an increase in popularity of anti-immigration right wing parties in Europe, in the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels. But it is London that has reversed the trend. It is notable that among the first to congratulate Sadiq Khan were the mayors of Paris and New York. Lord Hain, a former Labour cabinet Minister said: “In the dominant British city, probably the most important city in the world, to have a Muslim mayor is an important statement.”
It can be argued that Sadiq Khan’s election is the best answer to Muslim extremists on the one hand, and to the white supremacist Islam-hating circles on the other. In an interview, he said that the election showed that actually there was no clash of civilisation between Islam and the West. “I am the West, I am a Londoner, I am British, I am of Islamic faith, Asian origin, Pakistan heritage, so whether it is ISIS or these others who want to destroy our way of life, they are talking about me. What better antidote to the hatred they spew than someone like me being in this position?” Sadiq Khan has come out squarely against the growing threat of Islamist extremism. He said: “My number one priority will always be keeping Londoners safe. I am particularly concerned about the growing threat of extremism and radicalisation in London, and I don’t hesitate to say that I’ll be the British Muslim who takes the fight to the extremists.” He wants to use his own experiences to defeat radicalisation and extremism.
In the USA, a rightist group described Sadiq Khan as the “First Muslim Mayor of Londonistan”. Donald Trump, however, sounded conciliatory and said that an exception could be made for people like Sadiq Khan to enter the USA despite his earlier stance that a general ban should be placed on Muslims entering the country. Sadiq Khan rejected the suggestion and condemned Trump’s idea of placing a ban on Muslims in general. By giving an impression that Islam and the West were incompatible, Trump was “playing into the hands of the extremists.” Sadiq Khan also said that in the Presidential election, the American people had “a choice of hope over fear, of unity over division, a choice of dividing communities in America and divide America from the rest of the world.” For this reason, he hoped Hillary Clinton would win the next election.
Sadiq Khan has clear ideas about his policies. He will be “the most pro-business Mayor London has ever had”. He will support small businesses and wants few visa restrictions. He will freeze London’s Tube, train and bus fares for four years. He supports Prime Minister Cameron’s bid to keep the UK in the EU. He warns that Britain’s exit from the EU would hurt London very badly in terms of jobs, business and tourism. Immediately after becoming Mayor, Sadiq Khan joined the Jews in a ceremony marking the Holocaust and he has since visited the main Hindu temple. His election as Mayor of London is a symbol of tolerance and he wants to prove this by his personal example.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.

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