Thursday, June 2, 2016

Election of London's first Muslim mayor deals blow to Islamophobia

Islamophobia is rife across Europe - with Muslims collectively linked to terrorism, and hated by a growing number of far-right extremists. Even some people considered "liberally minded" - like Zac Goldsmith - intentionally or intentionally fan flames of xenophobia and suspicion against Muslims. The deadly terror attacks in Paris and more recent attacks in Brussels - as well as the refugee crisis - further polarized an already hostile debate surrounding Muslims and Islam in Europe. Despite the toxic environment, London elected its first Muslim mayor -- the first Islamic mayor in a European Union capital.

News broke on 7 May 2016 that London had elected Sadiq Khan mayor. According to the BBC, Sadiq Khan beat his opponent, Zac Goldsmith - a non-Muslim, white Conservative - by 1,310,143 votes to 994,614 to become London's first Muslim mayor. Sadiq Khan's victory, according to the BBC, gave him "the largest personal mandate of any politician in UK history". In other words, a Muslim now holds the record for largest personal mandate for a politician in the history of the UK.

Of course, with a Muslim's name on the ballot, the 2016 London mayoral campaign was not without racism and fear-mongering by those on the other side of the political spectrum. There are those who misguidedly think all Muslims have links with terrorism or Islamist extremists. This is illustrated by the fact that during the campaign Sadiq Khan was accused by opponents, including Prime Minister David Cameron for sharing a platform with Islamic extremists. In a comment piece published in the Mail, Sadiq Khan's Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith also sought to link his Muslim counterpart to terrorism. In the comment piece which was published with a picture of a double-decker London bus wrecked by a suicide bomber in the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, Zac Goldsmith questioned whether Londoners wanted to hand the city to a party that thinks terrorists are its friends. According to the Guardian, Goldsmith wrote:
"The number one job of the mayor is to keep our city safe. Yet if Labour wins on Thursday, we will have handed control of the Met, and with it control over national-counter-terrorism policy, to a party whose candidate and current leadership have, whether intentionally or not, repeatedly legitimized those with extreme views."
There were clear attempts during the campaign to paint Khan as a radical. The freshly minted mayor of London later described the electoral tactics employed by his opponents as being "straight out of the Donald Trump playbook". Worthy to mention that US presidential candidate Donald Trump called for a "total and complete" ban on Muslims entering the US, - with fear-mongering being a cornerstone of his campaign. Mayor Khan is not alone in linking London´s mayoral campaign to Donald Trump's chirade. Even a Conservative described the Conservative campaign in an article on the Middle East Eye as "repulsive". A senior London Conservative said the campaign had "blown up bridges" the party had built with Muslim communities.

My view

Not all Mulsims are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. It is a fact which cannot be overemphasized. And the election of a Sadiq Khan, the first Islamic Mayor in a European Union capital, is an indication that the shameless exploitation of anti-Muslim sentiments and prejudices by politicians and Islamophobes in a bid to score political points does not always work. All the people cannot be fooled all the time. Londoners are smarter than that.

In an infamous comment piece in the Mail, Zac Goldsmith claimed -- wrongly, of course -- that London was "on the brink of a catastrophe" as the capital could elect Saqid Khan -- a Muslim son of a Pakistani immigrant -- to replace Boris Johnson as mayor. Well, I got news for Goldsmith and those who naively bought his misguided narrative: it has been a month, as of the time of this writing, since London elected a Muslim mayor, and there has been no "catastrophe". London was not (and still is not) on the brink of a catastrophe because of the election of a Muslim mayor. The city faces the same security, economic, political, social and other challenges that it faced under two former [white, non-Muslim] mayors, namely Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

The election of Sadiq Khan shows that contrary to the industrial scale of xenophobia across Europe, and scare-tactics and hate-mongering employed by politicians like Zac Goldsmith, Londoners at the end of the day can distinguish fact from fiction. All attempts to link Khan to terrorism were fictitious, and failed woefully. Divisive campaign tactics used by opponents of Sadiq Khan clearly did not work. Londoners refused to reject a candidate for mayor simply because of his religious background. The Islamophobic Tory campaign played right into the hands of Islamic extremists who benefit enormously from Muslim-bashing and exclusion of vulnerable groups of people.

Exclusion and discrimination faced by young Muslims and other ethnic minorities in western societies is often exploited by terrorist recruiters. By electing a Muslim mayor, Londoners might just have neutralized a recruiting tool used by radical Islamists. Criminals who use exclusion as a recruiting tool can no longer tell reasonable young Muslims in London in particular and the UK in general that they have no place in Britain or in British politics. What should matter at the end of the day - be it in politics, business or any other field - is the content of one´s character and his or her qualification and ability to get the job done. Any other distinction -- race, skin color or religion is secondary.

In 2003 Sadiq Khan voted in favour of same-sex marriage and received death threats; he worked as a human rights lawyer, he said there´re questions to be asked about the use of hijabs, and he was sworn in as Mayor of London in a multi-faith ceremony in London's Southwark Cathedral -- doesn´t look like what someone who is - in the words of Zac Goldsmith - "radical and divisive" would do.

It is in London´s interest that Zac Goldsmith was not elected mayor after running such a racist, xenophobic political campaign with the backing of his party.

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