London's New Mayor: Islamist or Integrator?

The Power of Hope

Early this month, politician Sadiq Khan made British political history by becoming the first Muslim elected Mayor of London.

Though London is one of the most ethnically diverse cities on Earth, its multiethnic society does not come without challenges. Mass migration resulting from raging war and poverty has rapidly changed the face of the city. Public concerns following the Paris attacks and the ongoing refugee crisis has exacerbated widespread ethnic segregation, with minority immigrant communities facing disparaging challenges of racial discrimination, unemployment, violence and poverty. The resulting social and economic strains have caused contention not only among its citizens, but among policy makers and politicians as well.

Khan, raised in a housing project by his Pakistani immigrant parents, recognized this mounting conflict and sought to combat it by creating opportunity and representing the interests of working class Londoners throughout his campaign for Mayor. 

"London is not the city of opportunity that it was for my brothers, my sister and me. For young families and individuals on average incomes, housing is increasingly unaffordable – with home ownership a distant dream. Social mobility is failing. In-work poverty is rising. Rocketing transport fares are making it more expensive to get to work or training” stated Khan on the campaign trail.

Khan defeated his leading opponent, conservative billionaire son Zac Goldsmith with his resounding pledge to be "Mayor for all Londoners." Goldsmith's campaign could have capitalized on his reputation as a liberally minded, eco-friendly Tory, crossing partisan divides, and delivered a message of love to the city that has increasingly become a Labour heartland, but instead sought to exploit anti-Muslim prejudices and waged a campaign soaked in racism, repeatedly attempting to link Khan with Islamic extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism.

Despite struggling with a rise in Islamophobia, and being submerged in a campaign of fear, smear and bigotry, Londoners rejected the message against multiculturalism, and supported Khan based on his track record.  As London’s mayor, Khan will have significant power over transportation and planning, as well as responsibilities for the police, civil defense and fire services in a city with an acute shortage of affordable homes and a creaking, overcrowded mass transit network. However, his job may also to be to continue the power of hope.

In his acceptance speech, Khan remarked that he was “proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division.” The victory of Khan as London's new mayor offers hopes of integration for the country's new immigrant families, serves as a symbol of social mobility, and provides aspirations to those from humble backgrounds.

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