#YesWeKhan: Muslim London mayor candidate rejects ‘extremism’ barb

Sadiq Khan, the 45-year-old MP for Tooting, has been leading in opinion polls all year to clinch the title

Nabila Pathan
Nabila Pathan - Special to Al Arabiya English
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It's one of the most powerful positions in British politics and looks set to be led by a son of a Pakistani-born bus driver who grew up on a council estate in London.

Sadiq Khan, the 45-year-old MP for Tooting, has been leading in opinion polls all year to clinch the Mayor of London title, with bookmakers making him the firm favorite.

Labour candidate Khan has himself described the historic moment if he were elected as mayor of one of most powerful western city's in the world: "The idea that the mayor of London could be the son of an immigrant, son of a bus driver, ethnic minority – and by the way, of Islamic faith – would speak volumes."

London currently boasts a record high population of 8.6 million, with 44 percent of the capital's inhabitants being of black or ethnic minority origin.

Despite Khan leading the campaign, the race for the leadership role has been widely considered one of the most vitriolic campaigns, dominated by personal attacks and accusations of racism.

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate for London Mayor, has been accused of running a divisive campaign on racial and religious lines on par with the tactics deployed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump.

sadiq khan
sadiq khan

Whether it was campaign leaflets sent out specifically to Hindu and Sikh Londoners, tailored to suggest that Khan, a Muslim of Pakistani descent, would not “stand up” for them as mayor, or claims that Khan could not be entrusted with London's security issues because of platforms or "links" he shared in the past with Muslims who happen to be sympathetic to extreme views - Muslim groups have accused Zac's campaign team of sinking to "disturbing lows."

While the tactics have been condemned as racist and Islamophobic by senior Labour figures, prominent public figures have also stepped in, such as Doreen Lawrence, the mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence, calling on Londoners this week to choose “unity over division” as she endorsed Khan for mayor.

Meanwhile, Khan has vowed to be "the British Muslim who takes the fight to the extremists" and accused Goldsmith of running a "nasty, dog-whistling campaign."

Even life-long Conservative voters like Peter Oborne described the Goldsmith campaign as "the most repulsive" he has ever witnessed "as a political reporter" in a recent column. He stated he will be "proudly voting for Khan" when Londoners head to the polls on May 5.

Infographic: Who is Sadiq Khan?

Infographic: Who is Sadiq Khan?
Infographic: Who is Sadiq Khan?

"I urge everyone, including Tories, to do the same," he says. "Consider this: if Goldsmith's campaign succeeds it tells every single British Muslim that there is no role for them anywhere in the British democratic system."

Observing the backlash against Zac Goldsmith on social media, Hasan Hoque, an organizer of a series of public lectures, seminars and debates ahead of the mayoral election, for the organization People's Philosophy, Politics and Economics (People's PPE), spoke to Al Arabiya English to explain why Zac's campaign strategy of "divide and rule" may have backfired.

"Social media was quick to find gaping holes in the association with extremism attack on khan. It turns out that Zak also campaigned for and shared platforms with the same people as Sadiq."

He also adds, that he found the approach "of labeling someone an extremist very interesting as it is usually the media that leads on this. Yet this time it wasn't the media, much like the Trump phenomenon was created and led by a politician. I think if the media had played that card then the prime minister wouldn't have made that desperate intervention. I definitely think apathetic Muslim voters will be less apathetic now ... Is that a plus for democracy? Who knows."

Despite the accusations coming from the Goldsmith camp, Khan's story of humble beginnings to potential London mayor stands in strong contrast to Goldsmith's wealthy background, being the son of a billionaire.

With just two weeks remaining in the campaign before Londoners head to the polls, the #YesWeKhan expected win might have defied initial expectations but his journey to power, crossing several social mobility barriers has begun to represent the aspirations of a London he wishes to run.

Furthermore, a Sadiq Khan expected win has also been celebrated as a symbolic challenge to "the context of current debate about Islam and the West."

According to the Telegraph's James Kirkup: "For the world's most important city... to be led and represented by a politician who just happened to be a Muslim would be a powerful argument against those extremists (Muslim and non-Muslim) who suggest that Islam and democracy are somehow incompatible."

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