Sadiq Khan as London mayor means little for how Britain views its Muslim citizens

Nirpal Dhaliwal
Nirpal DhaliwalMay 09, 2016 | 13:28

Sadiq Khan as London mayor means little for how Britain views its Muslim citizens

Alhamdulillah! London chose its first Muslim mayor last week. Sadiq Khan's election to the post has provoked much discussion here in the capital about immigration, what it means to be a Londoner, and the place of Islam in this society.

The son of a bus driver who migrated here from Pakistan, Khan easily beat the wooden and lacklustre Conservative candidate, and billionaire's son, Zac Goldsmith.


This is no surprise: Khan's Labour Party is traditionally much stronger than the Tories in London - Labour even enjoyed an increased share of the vote here in last year's general election - and its zealous activists on the ground worked tirelessly to get the faithful out to vote, not least to save their imbecile leader, Jeremy Corbyn, from the coup that defeat may have triggered.

Khan's champions regard his victory as a triumph against Islamaphobia, and Goldsmith has been vilified for running a negative campaign that focused on Khan's links to religious extremists, hoping to smear him in the process.

However, while Khan's politics have been largely within the mainstream - he voted for gay marriage for instance - it seems only prudent that his challenger should have pointed out that Khan's brother-in-law was affiliated to a banned extremist group, and that Khan has himself been contemptuous of secular Muslims - calling them "Uncle Toms" - and many times been associated with extremists, including actively helping the Muslim Council of Britain, an organisation that openly pronounces Ahmadis to be heretics.


Khan also publicly defended an Egyptian cleric, Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, against accusations of extremism, though the man sympathised with wife-beating, the killing of homosexuals and suicide bombing.


Khan is neither an Islamist, nor is his election a watershed moment in British multiculturalism.

The sad truth is that to win a large share of votes among Muslims here, a politician will inevitably find himself in problematic company, and Khan's success sheds no light whatsoever on the relationship between British Muslims and the wider population, which remains as ambivalent and full of contradictions as ever.

Britain's response to the challenge of Muslim integration has been to thrust its head into the sand - the typical national response to the various truths and complications of globalisation. It is a problem of excess complexity that Britain's insecure and unworldly people not want to deal with.

While Khan's mayorship will be heralded in some quarters as proof of how well assimilated British Muslims are, only three weeks ago poll results were released that suggested there is a widespread unwillingness among them to inform on supporters of terrorism, while nearly 25 per cent want Islamic law to replace the existing legal system and 39 per cent agree with the statement that "wives should always obey their husbands".

The deep-seated separatism that runs though the lives of many British Muslims - who often live in segregated communities and still strongly practice endogamous marriage with relatives imported from Pakistan and Bangladesh - is confounding to the British at large. And it confounds them because, despite being in charge of India for almost two centuries, the British learnt extremely little about the subcontinent and its people.


The uncomfortable fact that no one in Britain wants to address is that immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh and their offspring - who comprise the bulk of Muslims here - are the products of nations whose identities and raison d'etre are steeped in ruthless notions of religious separatism and cultural purity.

If secularism and democratic pluralism were truly of any great importance to the people of Bangladesh and Pakistan, those countries simply would have not come into being in the first place. The creation of the two states was an explicit rejection of those principles, as embodied by the Indian republic, and was accompanied on each occasion by a vast bloodbath obliteration of non-Muslim minorities in the process.

The arc of Pakistan's destiny since 1947 has been to emulate the worst neuroses of the Arab world in an effort to define itself against the freedom and kaleidoscopic fluidity of India: a trajectory that Bangladesh seems to be tending towards too as Islamist politics flourishes there.

And while the overwhelming majority of South Asian Muslims in Britain want to live in peace with the rest of society, it is the height of naivety to think that the underlying pathology that drove their countries of origin into existence has not travelled with them, to varying extents, to their new homeland.

It is not as though the British knew nothing of the complexities of Muslim politics: as well as overseeing the separatist zeal that lead to the incredible slaughter at Partition, in 1921 they had to put down a pan-Islamic uprising in the Malabar region that ended with a death-toll of 100,000. Yet the grand products of dysfunctional South Asian pan-Islamism - the states of Pakistan and Bangladesh - have been the source of millions of immigrants into Britain.

The British have wilfully ignored these complications, and now they are dismayed that they are witnessing, as one leading commentator, Trevor Phillips, described it, the creation of a Muslim "nation within our nation".

If Sadiq Khan's election to mayor marks any kind of progress, it marks a slow, difficult and unpredictable one. It proves that London is an open-minded global city that holds no one's background against them. It is a city that loves hustlers, from Punjabis who fix your mobile phone to French traders raiding the stock market, and Khan, the bus driver's boy, knows how to hustle - well, more than Zac Goldsmith does.

But as an indicator of the relationship between Britain and its Muslim citizens, it expresses nothing other than an ongoing confusion.

Last updated: May 10, 2016 | 11:32
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