Sadiq Khan’s victory won’t end Islamophobia, but it offers hope

sadiq khan

Sadiq Khan’s ‘calm and grace in the face of Zac Goldsmith’s attacks have been truly admirable’. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA

Source: Guardian

By 

Unlike Zac Goldsmith’s, the new mayor of London’s campaign was positive and dignified. His election shows British Muslims they can succeed against the odds

What a relief. For the past few months it’s been hard to get my head out of my hands long enough to watch the news. And it’s not just the celebrity deaths that have depressed me: 2016 has not been kind to British Muslims. Channel 4 painted us as polygamous, sexist homophobes in its documentary What British Muslims Really Think. Donald Trump told us we would be banned from the US – and went on to clean up in the primaries. And through it all there was the steady drip of poison from Zac Goldsmith’s London mayoral campaign. So the news that Sadiq Khan has become London’s first Muslim and first ethnic minority mayor couldn’t come at a better time.

Khan spins it as a political fairytale to give Dick Whittington a run for his money: the son of a bus driver and seamstress who grew up on a council estate and became mayor of the capital. For London’s 44% BAME population it’s a particularly powerful message of aspiration – no matter your race, religion or class, you too could become the most powerful, directly elected politician in the country. And it’s a kick in the teeth to polls last year that suggested that a third of Londoners would be “uncomfortable” with a Muslim mayor.

Last summer I watched as Michelle Obama spoke at the Mulberry school for girls in east London, in one of the most deprived wards in the country, telling children her own story about growing up as a black girl in Chicago, trying to find space to work in a bedroom she had to share with her brother, in a home where there was little quiet space. Their rapturous faces told me just how important – and rare – role models like that can be. Khan might not have the star power of the first lady, but his story is one that many Londoners from all backgrounds can feel proud of.

It’s just a shame this fairytale had to have a villain. Tall, handsome and rich, it once seemed Goldsmith might easily sweep London off its feet. A well-liked constituency MP, he had impressive environmental credentials and a family that, while staggeringly rich, still reflected the diversity of London – with Christian and Jewish roots, and a glamorous Muslim ex-brother-in-law in Imran Khan. But instead of espousing a positive message, Goldsmith’s camp seemed determined to see exactly how much Islamophobia you can get away with in British politics.

First came the dog whistle, with leaflets describing Sadiq Khan as a “radical”; easily read as a coded slur on Khan’s Muslim faith. Then came the guilt by association – with newspaper headlines that an ex-brother-in-law of Khan’s had attended extremist rallies; that Khan shared platforms with extremists; that the imam of a mosque in Tooting, Khan’s constituency, supported Islamic State. Even Khan’s career as a human rights lawyer was twisted into service, with the accusation that he had defended terrorists – as though ensuring the right to a fair trial was itself suspicious.

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Tower Bridge

Aerial view of Tower Bridge and the River Thames at night. Photograph: Jason Hawkes/theguardian.com

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