London is changing. For the first time in its history it has elected a Muslim as Mayor. Sadiq Khan, after his election as mayor, described his victory as the triumph of “hope over fear and unity over division”.Khan is a human rights lawyer of Pakistani descent. His family originally migrated from India to Karachi after the Partition and his grandparents are still living in that city. He has taken up cases of human rights violations of Muslims in the city who were unjustly targeted as a result of prejudice about all Muslims being terrorists. The fact that Sadiq Khan set a record by winning 1.1 million votes, with a lead over his closest rival bigger than that achieved by his predecessors Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, suggests he had backing across all religious communities. Sadiq Khan had to first beat four other contenders within the party last December to win Labour Party nomination as their official candidate for the mayoral elections in London. After his nomination, not many thought he would pull it off. But during the campaign, the support for him built up across communities.
After his election, his poor family background is being presented as an asset. His father is a bus driver and his mother a seamstress. Khan grew up on a south London council estate with seven siblings. His family later moved to Tooting, a constituency he has represented throughout his political career. He studied in local state school, following which he studied law in London. However, the questions Londoners were asking during the mayoral campaign were: Can the son of a bus driver and seamstress represent the city? Can a Muslim be the face of the great, threatened city? Sadiq Khan’s Conservative Party opponent, the billionaire Zac Goldsmith would not miss an opportunity to smear Sadiq Khan’s face by reminding Londoners that he shared platforms with “extremists” in the past. Goldsmith pitched his campaign strongly on racism and divisiveness. He went to the extent of warning voters that with a Labour victory “we will have handed control of London, and with it control over national counter-terrorism policy, to a party whose candidate and current leadership have, whether intentionally or not, repeatedly legitimised those with extremist views.” There was mounting criticism even within the Conservative Party to Goldsmith’s smear, with many saying his tactic of painting religious conservatives as “extremists” would alienate the party from the city’s ethnic minority voters, which is what probably happened.
Among many things, Sadiq Khan’s victory is an assertion by the ethnic minorities of the city which has been witnessing Islamophobic incidents very frequently. Recently the veil of a Muslim female student was ripped off in a racist attack outside a London university. The woman had joined members of an Islamic Society group running a stall outside the Strand campus of King’s College London as part of Discover Islam awareness week. The group was handing out literature when two white men started arguing with them and allegedly ripped off the veil from the face of one of the women. Not long ago, a Muslim woman was punched and kicked on a London bus by two women in a suspected racist attack. The women attackers were black females aged in their 20s who hit the Muslim woman in her 40s shouting racist and Islamophobic abuse at her.
There has been a 60% rise in the number of Islamophobic crimes in London over the past two years. Police recorded 667 reported Islamophobic crimes from January 2014 to January 2015, compared to 1,068 reported from January 2015 to January 2016. Things are really getting ugly for Muslims in particular, essentially because racists are refusing to dissociate religious conservatism among Muslims from the barbaric terrorism being carried on by many groups across the world in the name of Islam. The religious landscape and ethnic composition of London has gradually changed with immigrants from Asia, the Middle East, Africa and other parts of the world. It is probably the most religiously diverse city in the world, despite its overwhelming white Protestant majority. Such a city cannot make any progress without fundamental commitment to religious freedom. Terrorism of all sorts and practiced by all groups must be combated, but no religious community should be lumped up with terrorists just because the extremists carry out their savage, senseless acts in the name of a religion. Londoners would expect Sadiq Khan to remove any doubts in the minds of the average non-Muslim about he protecting or defending any terrorist. At the same time he would expect non-Muslim Londoners to shed their blind prejudice against practicing Muslims.