King Sadiq Khan, first of his name

In Society on 18. May 2016 at 22:28

The election of labour candidate Sadiq Khan as mayor of Greater London triggered a viral news reporting. His Muslim (and non-western immigrant) background made him the first of his kind to this post, an identity which dominated the campaign.

To counter the news, others started posting lists on why he was not the first of his kind, that the continent (from which Brits are to decide to leave or stay within soon) have had and still has mayors and elected members in counties, districts, parliaments and in Governments.

Soon the dusty books of history were picked (or rather Google searches) and social media started reporting on how some Muslims had powerful posts and positions in Europe, referring to Berber/Arab and Turk ruled domains in Iberia, Sicily, Anatolia and the Balkans.

The result became a tussle on whether or not a religious minority could gain such a post in a Muslim majority country.

With Khan’s election, what matters is not that he endured a xenophobic campaign, and amidst anti-Muslim sentiments, managed to bag the post by popular consent. It’s nice, indeed, that the way leader of far-right Britain First turned his back on Khan’s victory speech, that majority of Londoners turned their back to such racists.


What actually matters is the fundamental right to attend elections as a candidate at all. To be a citizen with equal rights, a part of a political party, vouch for its manifesto, and front the party to the electorate. Britain has long had a virus with their multicultural policy, where certain self-appointed representatives of different ethnicities or religious backgrounds tried to be elevated as leaders and voices of ‘their’ communities – Sadiq Khan broke that.

During the mayoral campaigns, his main opponent Zac Goldsmith tried to appeal to the British-Pakistani voters by joining hands with the Pakistani politician Imran Khan. Latter is quite popular in Pakistan and among diaspora for his stance against corruption and nepotism. Yet he supported a Tory candidate and Zac happened to be his former brother in law.

Sadiq in addition had to face much opposition from segments of the British Pakistani and Muslim community leaders for his stance on gay rights. For Khan it was simply a principled campaign on a labour ticket. Quite fascinating that the pro-Kremlin misogynist George Galloway too vouched for the same voter group, but was badly beaten – his Respect Party got respect only on paper.

Thing is, Sadiq is both a first, and not a first at all – but the main issue is, a mayor, a party leader, a minister, or whatever, of Muslim background in Europe, is not a proof of how tolerant Europe or the west is. What really matters is the principle of equality in these given countries in their respective constitutions and laws – these are at prime as of today, best in the world, but it is no guarantee they will be.

Indonesia is the most populous Muslim country, its capital is currently under the Governorship of a Chinese-Protestant (double minority) – he faces much opposition from Islamists for being in charge, yet he has support from his predecessor (current President) and the civil society.

This corner of the world also witnessed an Iraqi-origin Jew who became Chief Minister of Singapore in mid 50s. Still the status of religious freedom in Malaysia, and Indonesia is dire – so let’s not get blended by heads on top, challenges are huge on grassroots level.

How many Ahmadi Muslims can today stand for elections, even from Rabwah (headquarters in Pakistan)? The development has rather been the opposite, from having people of Ahmadi origin in cabinets, in top-tier Army positions and in bureaucracy, there is an organized purge against this community. Can one then brag about a Christian minister in the cabinet, or where once a Christian was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court when the Christian community live as second-class citizens today?

Cross the border to India. Before current Government, a Sikh was the Prime Minister, whose party is led by a Christian woman, back then a Muslim was both President and Chief Justice of Supreme Court – did that end the Hindu nationalist onslaught against Muslims and Christians? The reality on ground in less religious tolerance with the manifestation of laws such as Beef ban in certain states, and organized campaigns for ‘Ghar wapsi’ (converting ‘back’ to Hinduism any non-Hindu community).

First Norwegian female Prime Minister put the standard for an equal share of women in her Cabinet. Her Cabinet was considered first of its kind back then, at present a Conservative minority Government is headed by a female Prime Minister and Finance Minister.

However, is it a proof of female empowerment? Is the leadership of Marine Le Pen of Front National a proof of tolerance and equality, when the very same party wants discriminatory laws to be valid for some citizens?

Countries which have had female Prime Ministers long before certain western countries, such as India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Philippines and Turkey do not rank better on gender equality – how many women are in these mentioned countries elected directly (not reserved seats) simply due to merit?

Situation for women participation in politics and in powerful positions has been much better in mentioned countries, yet at a slow speed. Mind you, this is the situation for a populace, which consists almost half the population – what about minorities who might number less than a tenth or even less than one percent?

Truth be told, countries with reserved seats are no success parameter or something to compare to a fully representative democracy. Off-course are reserved seats for minorities and women in for example Pakistan good to accelerate process of emancipation – but it is a sign of a society which needs to work towards equality – in where ethnic or religious background or gender for that matter, does not matter.

As Kenan Malik so well put it, The most significant aspect of Sadiq Khan’s victory was not that he has become London’s first Muslim mayor. It is that, for many Londoners, his faith was irrelevant to the way they cast their vote. When we engage with others’ values, but remain indifferent to their identities – that is when we will have made progress.

Sadiq Khan is first of his name, first of his kind, but he is foremost the second Labour politician to hols the office as Mayor of Greater London.


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