Londoners elected the city’s first Muslim mayor in a historic victory Friday, against the backdrop of rising xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment throughout Europe.
The Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan, 45, an MP and son of working class Pakistani immigrants, defeated the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, who is the son of a billionaire. London’s 8.6 million overwhelmingly elected Khan, despite attacks that portrayed him as a “radical” and linked him to “extremist” figures.
“Critics have suggested the core strategy of Mr. Goldsmith’s campaign is to draw attention to Mr. Khan’s faith,” the Independent reported last month. On Sunday, Goldsmith published an op-ed in the Mail with a picture of a bus destroyed in the 7/7 attacks, criticizing Khan and Labour by saying they are a party where “terrorists are its friends.” Current London Mayor Boris Johnson, who is a Conservative, tried to link Khan to former London mayor and Labour party member Ken Livingstone — recently lambasted and later suspended for saying Hitler was a supporter of Zionism in the 1930s. Prime Minister David Cameron has also attacked Khan under similar pretenses.
While the Conservative Party has highlighted instances of anti-Semitism among certain members of the Labour Party, the Conservatives have alienated many Muslim constituents of late. Apart from attacks on Khan, Cameron has made a number of statements that have been described as a “disgraceful stereotyping of British Muslims,” by the Ramadhan Foundation, an organization that focuses on education and needs of Britain’s Muslim community. The disconnect between the party and the Muslim community has taken its toll, especially considering one in eight Londoners identifies as a Muslim, according to the Financial Times.
While Khan identifies as a Muslim and says he partakes in certain religious practices such as fasting during Ramadan, he has said his personality contains multitudes. “We all have multiple identities,” he recently told GQ. “I am a dad, a husband, Londoner, Asian, British, Muslim. I never run away from my faith but I don’t proselytize.”
Khan is the first Muslim elected to mayor in a major Western city, though he follows in the footsteps of Rotterdam’s popular Moroccan-born Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb. Aboutaleb is widely regarded in the Netherlands although the country is facing widespread anti-Muslim backlash. Khan holds up his own story as one of successful integration, one more easily attained in Britain than in other parts of Europe.
“Compared with Europe, in London you see more confidence about the integration of ethnic minorities, in politics, civic society and business,” Khan said. “On the left and the right you see a growing number of ethnic minority politicians. In European cities, you don’t tend to see it on the right.”
Khan’s election comes just seven weeks before Britain votes on whether it should remain in the European Union.
London’s mayor has less power than those in other cities, but the authority does extend to policing, transportation, housing, the fire department, emergency services, environmental services, culture, and economic development.
“The mayor retains just seven per cent of taxes raised in the city,” Khan told GQ in an interview earlier this week. “In New York, it is 50 percent. In Tokyo, 70 per cent. This is the most centralized democracy in the world. We have police, fire, planning, Tube, DLR, parts of the Overground. The next things the mayor and local authorities should have are skills, further education, planning of education places, commuter trains, more powers on housing, the ability to borrow to build, issue bonds.”