Sadiq Khan, 45, a London-born son of Pakistani immigrants, who grew up with his six brothers and sister in a three-bedroom, public housing apartment, was sworn in as Mayor of London, the capital of Britain yesterday.
With Whites forming 60% of London’s population of 8+ million, and the total Asian population only 1.5 million or 18%, Labour Party Khan’s 57% of the vote to defeat the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, had to have included support across the ethnic and religious spectrum.
Sadiq Khan fulfils the promise of multiculturalism in societies that are culturally plural, even though Conservatives such as David Cameron in Britain, Angela Merkel in Germany and other politicians are moving away from the movement in the wake of a wave of xenophobia sweeping Europe.
That Khan is a practising Muslim and therefore a member of the group that has faced the brunt of xenophobia in recent years, makes his victory even more significant.
He became the first Muslim leader of a major Western capital.
Sadiq Khan followed the path of most immigrants that came to Britain to achieve economic advancement. In his case, he studied law, became a university lecturer and the chairman of a civil liberties group, and was elected to Parliament in 2009.
In accordance with the multicultural ideal, Khan was not forced to abandon his cultural or religious identity, but was taught to respect other cultures and religions. Unlike many others, he accepted the premises of multiculturalism, and its demand that all groups should be allowed to co-exist peacefully, even as a lawyer he defended the right of several defined as “extremists”.
In Khan’s own words he describes what many in Guyana, which is also a multicultural society has still not accepted, much less practice. As a devout Muslim, he does not drink alcohol, but as he told one newspaper, his faith is just one facet of his character. “We all have multiple identities: I’m a Londoner, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, I’m a dad, I’m a husband, I’m a long-suffering Liverpool fan.”
Khan’s opponent in the election was ironically Zac Goldsmith, the multimillionaire brother of Jemina Goldsmith, who was once married to Pakistani cricket idol-turned Muslim politician in his native country Imran Khan.
Goldsmith, however, ran what even members of his own Conservative Party called a “nasty and racist campaign”. Unfortunately, David Cameron did not think so and repeated many of the allegations that attempted to link Khan to Muslim extremists while ignoring his hard-earned credentials defending the civil rights of individuals from all walks of life.
Khan did not just rail against “the system” but worked from within to change shortcomings he identified. He was elected as a Member of Parliament for Tooting in South London in 2005 and by dint of hard work rose quickly through the Labour Party ranks.
In 2009, he was made the first Muslim member of the British Cabinet by Gordon Brown, and as such had to be sworn in by the Queen. He told a newspaper: “The palace called me and said, ‘What type of Bible do you want to swear on?’ When I said the Quran, they said, ‘We haven’t got one.’ So I took one with me.”
Khan will now be in charge of a city with an annual budget of USB, and more importantly, be given the opportunity to destroy many of the stereotypes of Muslims that are being peddled in the West.
On the other hand, his adherence to the tenets and premise of multiculturalism will be a reminder to many other in multicultural societies that they also have a role – a major role – to live out the meaning of the doctrine and so break those negative stereotypes.
Here in Guyana, there also exist shibboleths as who can or cannot hold office because of their ethnic or religious backgrounds. We also have to break such outmoded notions.