By Arab News
By Sabria S. Jawhar*
Hey, everybody! The door for Muslims to enter the United States cracked open an inch or so this week! Donald Trump, America’s favorite xenophobe, said that London’s new Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, would be an exception to his campaign promise to ban Muslim migration to the land of milk and honey.
And Khan did absolutely nothing to earn it, but he did thank Trump by calling him “ignorant.” “Donald Trump’s ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe — it risks alienating mainstream Muslims around the world and plays into the hands of extremists,” Khan said.
Okay, Mr. Khan, I don’t exactly know what a mainstream Muslim is, but thanks for putting America’s next President in his place. No word whether Mr. Trump has reminded his “exemption.”
Khan has the distinction of being the first Muslim to be mayor of a major Western city. And, of course, it’s not just any major city but literally the center of the Western world. The Muslim population of London is about 13 percent, so it’s clear that he had a wide range of support not only from the minority population but traditional white and non-Muslim voters as well.
Khan beat Tory Zac Goldsmith by a whopping 57 percent to 43 percent, which by any measure is a mandate by the people of London to see that Khan fulfills his campaign promises. Those promises include freezing fares on public transportation, giving priority attention to the disabled and demanding more transparency in land ownership.
And it appears that his victory this month was not so much based on his religious and ethnic background, but his experience in government and his activism as a solicitor. As a social democrat in the Labour Party, the 45-year-old mayor was a Member of Parliament from 2005 until his election for Tooting. He comes from a Pakistani working class family and after graduating from the University of North London with a law degree he specialized in human rights cases.
Perhaps what is most exciting about Khan’s election as mayor is that he didn’t follow the pattern of other Muslims who won mayoral elections by putting their religion on the back burner. By no stretch of the imagination do I suggest that Khan used his religion to further the Muslim cause, but that he doesn’t shrink from his religion. His reaction to Trump’s “exemption” offer is a perfect example. Instead, Khan refuses to back down and bury his ethnic heritage and religion by not only taking on Trump, but also David Cameron and Goldsmith. He accused Cameron and Goldsmith of attempting to divide London’s ethnic communities to suppress voting in some portions of the city.
As Europe’s most powerful Muslim mayor, he is willing to use his clout to right some very serious wrongs about the treatment of minorities. Yet we should ask ourselves whether this should be the role of a mayor of a large, metropolitan city. Khan has his heart in the right place by focusing on transportation and housing. After all, this is a mayor’s job.
But London’s voters knew very well when they went to the polls that they were ushering into an office an activist who as a solicitor has defended the rights of some unsavory clients. What’s appealing about Khan is that he understands that even clients deemed criminals or radical or whatever label applies are entitled to a spirited defense and to be protected by the laws of the land. Like any good lawyer he takes seriously the job of protecting the rights of his clients and demanding that the government prove its case against his clients.
This is exactly the kind of mayor London needs. It’s also the kind of mayor that New York, Berlin and Paris need. An activist who understands what it means to represent the underdog.