The Muslim mayor of London
The symbolic significance of Khan’s triumph is vast at a moment when Europe is haunted by the spectre of Islamist terrorism, with many politicians and commentators quick to imply that the terrorism is inseparable from the very presence of Muslims on European soil.
A Labour MP of modest origins and impeccably moderate political views, this born-and-bred Londoner campaigned on the basis that he would be a mayor for all Londoners. His mayoral signing-in ceremony took place in Southwalk Cathedral, with Christians, Jews and Muslims in attendance. Islamophobes may see this as sinister. Many more welcome it as the stance of a determined champion of inclusiveness.
Khan’s campaign stood in sharp contrast to that of his main rival candidate for the mayoralty, the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith. Missing no opportunity to demonize him, Goldsmith blatantly alleged that Khan harbored terrorist sympathies. Nor did Goldsmith, himself Jewish, hesitate to exploit the ugly row that has erupted in the Labour Party over alleged anti-Semitism.
Following his election, Khan excoriated the Conservative Party for aping the ethno-religious scaremongering that has marked the US presidential campaign of Donald Trump. The suspicion is that the campaign to vilify him as a Muslim originated in the upper reaches of the Conservative Party where much faith has been reposed in the right-wing Australian “spin doctor”, Lynton Crosby, whose stock-in-trade is xenophobic “dog whistle” electioneering. Coincidentally, Crosby was being made “Sir Lynton Crosby” on the very day that Sadiq Khan was elected as a mayor — a reward, it appeared, for his services to the Conservative Party in last year’s UK general election. The impression that the British state was ennobling a pedlar of prejudice was hard to escape.
In a time of growing disquiet about inequality it was no advantage to Goldsmith that he is the son of a billionaire. What stood in his favor was his reputation as a politician of integrity. Thanks to his unsavory campaign that reputation is badly tarnished. The curious thing was his failure as an intelligent man to grasp how misjudged his whole approach was to campaigning in London in the second decade of the 21st century. The pandering to bigotry that may pay dividends with the wider British electorate has little purchase on a hugely cosmopolitan metropolis in which Muslims figure large. It transpires that both Muslim and non-Muslim members of his own party warned Goldsmith that his tactics would backfire disastrously.
It cannot have helped Goldsmith, either, that with the June 23 UK referendum on membership of the EU in prospect, he campaigned as a supporter of “Brexit.” After all, the present populace of London conspicuously includes great numbers of young working people from other parts of Europe. Anti-European sentiment may be widespread elsewhere, particularly among older English people. It is scarce in London.
In truth, London is viewed as an alien place by many in the rest of the UK. Even in the adjacent county of Essex, a white English bastion, perceptions abound that Sadiq Khan’s election is chilling evidence that “they” have taken over. Not a few of the indigenous English share the belief of the demagogic right-wing US blogger, Matt Drudge, that London is now “Londonistan,” a hotbed of militants.
If “Brexit” happens, London will loom anomalously as the globalized capital of a nation that has opted for insularity. Yet in common with the world at large, the whole UK demographic is inexorably following the pattern set by London, albeit at a less headlong pace, with so-called “hyphenated” identities ever more commonplace. The election of Sadiq Khan heralds a day when to be Muslim and British will be remarkable only for being unremarkable.
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