3 years

PORTRAIT

Sadiq Khan: More than a Muslim Mayor

Sadiq Khan
Madhavankutty Pillai has no specialisations whatsoever. He is among the last of the generalists. And also Open chief of bureau, Mumbai  
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The election of Sadiq Khan and the multicultural future of British politics

SOON AFTER Sadiq Khan was sworn in as the first ever Muslim mayor of London, an unusual question was posed to Donald Trump, the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for the US presidential elections. During his campaign, after last November’s terror strike on Paris, Trump had said that he would not allow Muslims to enter the US “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on”. Trump was now asked whether Khan would be an exception to this rule. Yes, he replied. Khan, in turn, spurned the gesture and said Trump was only making the US and UK more unsafe by his ignorance of Islam, giving fodder to terrorists to woo mainstream members of the community.

Racism is not something new to Khan, who was born and brought up in a UK with remnants of the colonial hangover. His father, a bus driver, moved there from Pakistan to work as a bus driver. Khan saw his father subject to racist taunts. He himself was also at the receiving end and recounted to the Mail on Sunday newspaper, how, when in school, a White boy called him ‘Paki’ and Khan decided to fight. “We went down on the floor hitting each other. He didn’t call me the ‘P’ word again,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. Even during the mayoral election, his Muslim identity was used against him. Khan belongs to the Labour party and the opposition Conservatives began a campaign falsely alleging that he had links with extremist elements. Before that, in the run-up to becoming the Labour nominee, a survey found that 31 per cent of Londoners would not be comfortable with a Muslim mayor. When the results of the election came in, Khan had soundly thrashed the Conservative nominee, getting 57 per cent of the votes; he had more votes than any London mayor had ever got in the past.

Khan is not an apologist for Islam and has been at the forefront of campaigns against public policy in the UK that sought to discriminate against Muslims. He has done this even where his own party was involved. When Tony Blair, as Britain’s Labour prime minister, wanted to detain terror suspects for 90 days, Khan protested against it despite only having just been elected to Parliament.

Khan is not an apologist for Islam and has been at the forefront of campaigns against public policy in the UK that sought to discriminate against Muslims. He has done this even where his own party was involved

A New Statesman profile spoke of another instance: ‘On the tenth anniversary of the 7 July 2005 London bombings, he spoke of how Blair had “called the four MPs of Islamic faith in to No 10 and sat us round a table and said—to Mohammad Sarwar, Khalid Mahmood, Shahid Malik and myself—it was our responsibility. “I said: ‘No it’s not. Why have you called us in? I don’t blame you for the Ku Klux Klan. Why are you blaming me for the four bombers on 7/7?”’

As mayor of London, Khan has almost $16 billion to oversee in running and shaping the city. Boris Johnson, the outgoing mayor, is now making a bid for the Conservative party leadership which also means the prime ministership. Is it possible that the UK might see Khan as its first Muslim prime minister sometime in the future? There is no telling. No one expected a Muslim mayor of London either.