He is less open to accusations of Islamophobia—might that help him crackdown on extremism?by David Patrikarakos / May 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Sadiq Khan has won—but has he won well?
So London has a Muslim mayor and history has been made. It’s rare that you can divide the candidates from two mainstream parties into genuinely good and bad guys. But the team around Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith did its best to make this possible, with a campaign clearly designed to attack the new mayor, Sadiq Khan on security grounds.
In itself there is nothing wrong with this tactic. With heinous attacks on both Brussels and Paris (twice) within the last eighteen months, not to mention London’s very own 7/7 attacks, it is clear that our capital is an obvious target for terrorism. British security services report they have prevented several terror plots in just the last year. So it is perfectly correct to scrutinize candidates running for Mayor of Europe’s largest capital city on the issue of security. Indeed, it would have been racist not to scrutinize Khan because he is Muslim.
But, while never directly mentioning Khan’s religion, the implications were clear: Khan was a bad bet precisely because he was a Muslim. He was, as Goldsmith said, “radical” and “dangerous.”
But Khan’s record makes clear that he is neither of these things. Even Maajid Nawaz, whom Khan represented when Nawaz was an Islamist locked up in Egypt was clear on the issue: “Sadiq Khan is no Muslim extremist,” he wrote. “Having known him when I was a Muslim extremist, I know that he did not subscribe to my then-theocratic views.”
So Goldsmith didn’t attack his opponent; he smeared him. And he was helped by the fact that several high profile politicians who purport to “stand up” for Muslims—people like the loathsome Ken Livingstone and George Galloway—who like to make ludicrous claims about Hitler being, in effect, a Zionist or the outright lie that Labour’s recent anti-Semitism crisis was concocted by the Zionist lobby, only made it easier for some of the Goldsmith-supporting anti-Muslim bigots to tar Khan with the same brush.
So after all this sound and fury how effective is Khan likely to be on keeping London safe? I have no crystal ball but my opinion is that he is in an excellent position to be the most effective mayor in tackling extremism since the office was first re-established in 2000.
I believe this to be true for three reasons. The first is the question of competence. Unlike either Livingstone or Boris Johnson Khan was as a human rights lawyer who spent a large part of his career dealing with extremists. He has first hand experience of the problem—as Nawaz attested to in his recent article—its causes and its most effective remedies.
The next two reasons involve the precise issue that caused such a furor during the election campaign: his religion. First, as a Muslim he is self-evidently better placed to reach out to a Muslim community that often feels marginalized and under attack. People are always more likely to at least listen to one of “their own”—even if they may not always agree.
Second, much in the same way that sometimes Jews can perhaps more easily criticise Israel, as a Muslim Khan is obviously less open to accusations of Islamaphobia if, as I suspect, he makes genuine attempts to crack down on extremism. He can go further in absolute condemnation of Islamism and Jihadism and better emphasize his firm intent to ensure London’s security services are prepared for any potential terrorist atrocity than an Eton-educated Tory toff would ever dare.
Khan’s first act as mayor was to visit the UK’s Holocaust Memorial. As well as an immediate fulfillment of his promise to be a mayor for all of London’s citizens, its timing so soon after Labour’s anti-Semitism controversy was greatly appreciated by London’s Jewish community and has shown his determination to be his own man from the very start. It was a clever and compassionate move, and it bodes well for his future mayoral career. If the twin qualities he demonstrated throughout the mayoral race: political nous and cultural sensitivity are anything to go by, Londoners have voted in the right man.
Plus he remains the only Mayor of London to have not mentioned Hitler. Even once.