London may be about to elect its first Muslim mayor. So what?

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Source: The Washington Post

By Adam Taylor

As Londoners go to the polls on Thursday, Sadiq Khan is widely expected to win the election to become the city’s mayor. If he does, he will be the first Muslim mayor in Europe’s largest city and the first elected Muslim mayor of any major European city.

Khan’s status as an observant Muslim hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, it has proved to be a sore subject in the remarkably bitter battle for London’s top political office, where identity politics has trumped the slim policy differences between the candidates. Khan’s supporters accuse his rival, Zac Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire financier, of using “dog whistle” tactics to tar Khan with allegations of links to extremists. Goldsmith penned an article in the Mail on Sunday that suggested that Khan had “repeatedly legitimized those with extremist views.”

The article was illustrated with a picture from the July 7, 2005, bombings in London, which left 52 people dead.


Is it really so shocking that Europe’s largest city would elect a Muslim mayor? Given that there are an estimated 1 million Muslims in London, around an eighth of the total population, perhaps not. The position of London mayor was created in 2000, meaning that Khan would not just be the city’s first Muslim mayor: He would also be the British capital’s third mayor, period. And although Khan comes from a Muslim background — he was born to Pakistani parents in south London — his reserved manner and stance against extremism make him a less divisive figure than his somewhat notorious predecessors, the outspoken leftist Ken Livingstone and the publicity-savvy conservative Boris Johnson.

However, the situation Khan faces may well be a broader sign of the difficulties Muslims in Western Europe confront when trying to get elected to office. The number of Muslim citizens has risen in many Western European nations over the past few decades. Perhaps it would be reasonable to assume that would mean more Muslim voters and more Muslim candidates for political office. The reality, however, is far more complicated — and not just because of religion.

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