Tuesday, May 10, 2016

"My name is Sadiq Khan and I'm the mayor of London!"

Sadiq Khan / 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."

London began the week with a new mayor. Meet Sadiq Khan. Not only is he the first Muslim to lead Britain's capital city, he's the first Muslim head of a major European capital.

"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," said the newly elected, 45-year-old Khan in a recent interview with The New York Times.

Khan, a Labour Party leader, succeeds two-term Conservative Boris Johnson, who was London's mayor since 2008. He was officially sworn in as London's new mayor last Saturday during a ceremony at Southwark Cathedral, and was immediately greeted with cheers and applause.

Sadiq Khan / The first Muslim leader of an important
western city.
Born in Tooting, South London, Khan is the fifth of eight children whose parents immigrated from Pakistan. He grew up in the 1970s in a public-housing project – known as a council estate – where his father drove a London city bus and his mother was a seamstress.

"My parents came here because they saw London as a beacon," Khan told The Guardian. "A place where they could create a better life."

Following a bitter Conservative campaign of personal attacks that was dominated by anxieties over his religion and ethnicity, Khan won a striking and historic victory over Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith, gaining a broad acceptance from the London electorate who supported him with 44 percent of first preference votes (56.8 percent of the vote overall) in a crowded field. His election brushed aside attempts by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron's government to link Khan to the threat of Islamist extremism and, perhaps, it signaled "a broad acceptance by voters of London's racial and religious diversity just months after jihadi terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris," wrote the Financial Times of London.

"Sadiq Khan's election as mayor of the British capital – making him the first Muslim leader of an important western city – is a historic moment that will be scrutinized around the world, particularly in other European cities struggling to integrate Muslim communities," wrote the Financial Times. "The victory of the Labour party candidate reaffirms London's multicultural image at a time of rising populist fervor in Europe and the U.S."

Khan has said he hoped that Donald J. Trump – the presumptive Republican Party presidential candidate who has called for barring Muslims from entering the U.S. – "loses badly."

As mayor of London, Khan will have power over transport, housing, air quality and policing. He's promised to make 50 percent of new homes affordable. He takes charge of one of the world's great cities, "a vibrant metropolis where every tongue is heard," wrote The New York Times. "In his victory, a triumph over the slurs that tried to tie him to Islamist extremism, Khan stood up for openness against isolationism, integration against confrontation, opportunity for all against racism and misogyny. He was the anti-Trump."

Khan, married and the father of two daughters, comes to his new leadership post following a career as a human rights lawyer. He was a Labour councillor in Tory-held Wandsworth for 12 years. He entered Parliament in 2005 and in 2010 his orchestrated Ed Miliband's winning Labour leadership campaign. He ran Labour's London campaign in the 2015 general election.

Sadiq Khan / "Proud that London has today chosen
hope over fear and unity over division."
As an observant Muslim, Khan seems well placed to tackle extremism in a city known for its tolerance and respect of each other. Although Britain has not sustained a major terrorist attack since 2005, it's worth noting that unlike France, Britain's Muslim population is well integrated, and one in eight Londoners identify as Muslim. During the campaign, Khan openly proclaimed his Muslim faith and declared that he was "the British Muslim who will take the fight to the extremists."

Still, Khan's election as mayor comes at a time when Europe is struggling with an increase in Islamaphobia, "riven by debates about the flood of Syrian migrants and on edge over religious, ethnic and cultural disputes," wrote The New York Times.


During Khan's acceptance speech, he noted that London's mayoral election "was not without controversy," but said he was "proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division."

He added: "I hope that we will never be offered such a stark choice again. Fear does not make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city."

Photos: Cover photo: Courtesy of Sadiq Khan Facebook page. Others: Courtesy of Google Images. 

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