Why Sadiq Khan’s Election as Mayor is a Victory for Diversity and London

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On May the 6th Sadiq Khan comfortably beat his closest competitor, Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith, to become London Mayor, winning with 1,310,143 votes to his 994,614. He is the first Muslim mayor of the city and whether you agree with his politics or not, you can’t deny his victory is encouraging. In the massive shift of the West to a more anti-immigration viewpoint, and the massive increase of Islamophobia since 9/11, it is great to see that Sadiq’s religion and ancestry didn’t hamper his comfortable victory, and it is a positive sign of the progressive values of, at least, London, but even perhaps the country at large.

Khan is one of eight children to a Pakistani immigrant. His father was a bus driver and he lived in a three bedroom house on an estate in Earlsfield in south-west London. He was raised a Muslim and has talked about the importance of his faith but, as to most people, it’s not his defining attribute (despite what the Conservatives would have you believe). He attended a local comprehensive school with the idea of becoming a dentist but eventually became a lawyer, studying for it at the University of North London. He eventually became an MP for Labour in Tooting in 2005. Khan’s story really is an example to other people from minorities, or simply poor backgrounds, that they can aspire to hold higher governmental office. Not everyone has to be from a wealthy background and have attended Eton. This is really what Khan embodies, so it is sad to see the Conservatives attacks being based around his religion and the fellow Muslims he worked with as a lawyer.

London has always been a centre for political and cultural diversity and it is not surprising Khan has found support here. Some boroughs in London, such as Newham and Tower Hamlets, have nearly half of its population as Muslim, providing Khan with many potential supporters who can relate to his upbringing and background. This really highlights the changing face of Britain, at least in the capital, and to many Londoners, including myself; when I think of what constitutes the British population, it usually contains many races and religion. Having grown up in and around a diverse borough in London, my view of Britain cannot really conform to the traditional stereotype that a real Englishman is white and Christian. Khan’s election shows more and more this perception is changing for the better.

However the first Muslim Mayor of such an important city has not sat well with many. One only has to look to social media to see the disgusting outbursts of many in response to it. The hashtag ‘#LondonHasFallen’ has been trending, with many of its tweets bluntly stating that Khan’s election is somehow ‘white genocide’ with Khan seething his views on implementing Sharia law on the capital. Many people even argued with me as to why a Muslim mayor of London spells the end for Britain.

Reading through these posts is utterly depressing and strangely a lot of the tweeters aren’t actually from London, and some not from the UK at all. It seems as though they feel their grievances are legitimised due, in part, to the Conservative campaign against Khan. Since Cameron was re-elected, with a majority, the party has moved increasingly to the right. While I am not unmovable anti-Tory, I was quite disgusted by elements of their campaign, and Khan has described these tactics of being ‘straight out of the Donald Trump playbook’. The Conservative consistently linked Khan with radical Muslims and more implicitly: terrorism. He has been unfairly and heavily criticised for defending extremists in his time as a human rights lawyer.

An article by Zac Goldsmith for the Mail asks ‘Are we really going to hand the world’s greatest city to a Labour Party that thinks terrorists are its friends?’, with a photo of the London bus destroyed during 7/7. Just from this headline and picture alone, the Conservatives are trying to paint Khan as something he isn’t. Firstly, the Corbyn comment about terrorist being ‘friends’ has been taken wildly out of context. He was talking about Hamas and Hezbollah, Palestinian and Lebanese terrorist groups respectively. These are nationalist groups, they aren’t the people who carried out 7/7 but the post is trying to get the reader to associate Khan with the London bombings and terrorism. It is scaremongering and it wants you to feel as though the prospect of Khan as mayor would make London more suspect to attacks by Islamic extremists. But why? Due to the lack of any credible evidence, it is basically inferring that you should be afraid simply because he’s a Muslim-so he must be a terrorist sympathiser. Most logical people wouldn’t accept this propaganda but it’s appealing to a base prejudice that, sadly, many in the UK have. This article is just one of many examples. In April the Prime Minster said that Khan sharing a platform with the Iman Suliman Gani, who ‘supports I.S.’, brings his judgement into question, despite Goldsmith himself being pictured with the same man. This strategy has even led to Tory peers denouncing the campaign. For a man who has described Islamic extremism as ‘a cancer eating at the heart of our society’, the Conservatives have had no trouble painting him as a radical Muslim.

Why this is a moral victory for London is because it shows the general rejection of the widespread anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiment that has re-surged since the rise of ISIL and the refugee crisis. The presidential campaign of Donald Trump has been so successful due to him exploiting this fear to help him demonise Muslims, with almost half the country supporting him and showing how ugly America is. London has suffered terrorists attacks, from Islamic extremists, like America, but it is unthinkable that a Muslim mayor of New York could ever be elected. Similarly the shift and election of far right parties in Austria, as well as Merkel’s declining popularity over EU immigration, shows that most countries on the continent wouldn’t accept a Muslim politician gaining a significant position, although Rotterdam had elected a Muslim mayor in 2008. Maybe our tolerance can be attributed to London being a historic of centre of progressive freedom of speech and ideas. From people like Karl Marx, Lenin, Charles Darwin and Gandhi, many of modern histories most important figures have formulated their opinions here, and the city moved past systematic religious factionalism and intolerance long ago. Fast-forward to today and you find that London is one of the freest places in the world in terms of speech. Of course there has been trouble, whether it was the race riots in the 1970’s and the 1980’s, or discrimination against the Irish Catholics for most of the 20th century, but Khan’s election symbolises how far London has come. This can’t be said for all of Britain but hopefully Khan has paved the way for more politicians from minorities to attain higher office, and maybe one day soon we will have our first non-White Prime Minister.

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Second year History Students-articles focus on international issues and politics.

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