After a campaign dominated by anxieties over religion and ethnicity, Sadiq Khan is the first Muslim mayor of London. Son of a Pakistani immigrant who worked as a bus driver, Khan’s victory is a symbolic triumph over the racial and religious tensions across Europe.
With his victory – with more than 1.3m votes – Sadiq Khan has reaffirmed London’s multicultural image in nowadays Europe, a continent struggling with a rise in slamophobia, divided by debates about the flood of Syrian migrants and on edge over religious, ethnic and cultural disputes fuelled by rising public fears after the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris.
Moreover, he is now one of the most prominent Muslim politicians in the West, although Khan is not the first Muslim to hold prominent office in Europe. Since 2009 the Dutch city of Rotterdam has had a Morocco-born mayor, Ahmed Aboutaleb, who has become one of most popular politicians in the country.
The new mayor argued that he will be “the British Muslim who will take the fight to the extremists”.
Read “Clash of Civilizations or Clash of Interests?” and “What Is Left of The Idea of Europe?” for more information on the current tensions across Europe.
The Son of Migrants Who Made His Way to the Top
Sadiq Khan was born in Tooting, South London, and grew up in a public-housing project. His father drove a bus, and his mother was a seamstress and both were immigrants from Pakistan.
After being elected to Parliament in 2005, Khan was nominated junior minister for communities in 2008. In 2009, he became minister for transport under the last Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown. Even though he was not one of the highest-ranking ministers, he became the first Muslim to be admitted to the Privy Council, a mainly ceremonial body normally requiring an oath to the queen.
Throughout the recent campaign, while focusing on bread-and-butter issues, such as the cost of housing and transportation, Khan made no secret of his Muslim faith. He does not drink and he asked to be sworn in using a copy of the Koran rather than a Bible when he was joining the Privy Council.
Nevertheless, he voted in favour of gay marriage in Parliament and, as result, he had received abuse and death threats from conservative and extremist Muslims.
Khan said that, as an observant Muslim, he is well placed to tackle extremism. “I’m a Londoner, I’m European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband,” he said.
A Muslim Leading the Fight to the Extremists
As new mayor, Sadiq Khan is now in charge of Europe’s biggest city, with an acute shortage of affordable homes and a creaking, overcrowded mass transit network. But it is also a global metropolis, inhabited by people from all over the world. Undeniably, London represents scarcely Britishness, since around a quarter of its residents are foreign-born, and one-eighth are Muslim. Thus, foresting cohesion, as well as promoting citizenship and civic engagement are among Khan’s first commitments.
Since 2005, the United Kingdom has not face a large-scale terrorist attack and its Muslim population, in contrast to France, is considered well integrated. “We do not just tolerate each other in London; we respect each other,” Khan has also said. However, dozens of assaults on British Muslims were reported following the Paris terrorist attacks in November.
As a moderate Muslim who knows the community from the inside, Khan hopes to have a better grasp of how to fight radicalisation. Meanwhile, attempts to prevent British children from being radicalised did not worked so far. An estimated 800 people have left the country to fight for or to support the Islamic State (IS).
For the latest updates on the EU’s fight against terrorism, read “European Parliament adopts PNR Directive to Fight Terrorism” and “Europol’s Reform Afoot while New Terrorist Threat Stopped in Italy.”