London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative on September 19, 2016 in New York. (Getty/Bryan R. Smith)

Meet Sadiq Khan: The liberal Muslim London mayor out of Trump’s worst nightmare

In the wake of the New York bombings, Khan came to America with a mantra: "Build bridges rather than walls"

Jalal Baig
September 24, 2016 5:29PM (UTC)

As news emerged about the bombing in New York's Chelsea neighborhood on Sept. 17, Donald Trump’s next move was all too predictable. Given that the Republican presidential nominee’s political playbook is undergirded by a scintilla of conviction and consists of few pages, he was certain to deploy the usual: fearmongering and self-adulation.

Understandably, an adult whose speech quality is assessed to be below the sixth-grade level may lack complexity of thought and appreciation for nuance.


Once Ahmad Rahami’s name and place of birth began to circulate, Trump encouraged the electorate to be fearful and vigilant, arguing that similar attacks “will happen more and more all over the country.” As Amy Davidson wrote for The New Yorker, Trump “packed misinformation in so densely that it makes summary a challenge.”

Fingers were pointed in the usual directions. All things remotely foreign and remotely related to Islam are now deemed corrosive for our values and cancerous to our survival.

Even though exactly zero Syrian refugees have been arrested for planning or engaging in terrorist activities, the roughly 12,000 of them in the United States were once again identified as the nation's bane. Trump's son Donald Jr. even compared the unconscionable suffering of these refugees to a bowl of Skittles.


The America, where Trump has been campaigning, provided a backdrop for the recently elected Muslim mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who visited Chicago and New York last week delivering a message of pluralism, integration and the mantra to “build bridges rather than walls.”

The son of a bus driver and seamstress who both emigrated from Pakistan to London in the 1960s, Khan was elected mayor on May 5. After receiving more than 1.3 million votes and what was considered the largest mandate in the history of British politics, he became the first Muslim mayor of a Western capital city.

His election comes at a time when ISIS seeks to eradicate the “gray zone of coexistence” between Muslims living in the West and their non-Muslim neighbors. As evidenced by the virulent Republican rhetoric during the current election cycle and the perpetual debate on integration and multiculturalism in Western Europe, Islam is viewed by many as antithetical to democracy and Western values.


As Mehdi Hasan wrote for the Guardian before the mayoral election, “to have a Muslim elected mayor of London ... would strike a significant blow against the simplistic narratives of Islamophobes and Islamists alike.”

In Khan, we find a Muslim who adheres to Islam’s basic tenets by praying, fasting and performing the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca but, as Hasan noted after the election, “sees no contradiction in being a card-carrying liberal, too.”


In short, he's the kind of Muslim that only Trump’s worst nightmares could conceive of. He upends many of the assumptions that Trump’s campaign of deceit rests on.

The recent furor surrounding France’s burkini ban was part of a larger ongoing argument about assimilation versus integration of immigrant communities. Assimilation requires someone to shed his or her cultures and traditions, while integration embraces the many complex facets of an individual's identity and allows for them to coexist with a national identity.

As countries like France and Belgium seek to adopt an assimilationist approach due to fears of terrorism and Islamic radicalism, Khan offers a vision of integration. In an op-ed he penned for the Chicago Tribune during his visit to its headquarters city, Khan commented on the importance of his multiple layers as a “proud Londoner, a Brit, European, of Pakistan heritage, a Muslim.”


Coercing individuals to sever parts of their identities in an effort to assimilate only “makes it harder to build cohesive communities,” Khan wrote. It implies that a Muslim cannot have a hyphenated existence in which he or she adheres to Islam and maintains Western values simultaneously. This engenders disenchantment, alienation and vulnerability to radicalism.

Indeed, as Benjamin Wallace-Wells has observed, “Radicalization has moved out of the lagoons of counterterrorism and foreign policy and into one of the main currents of Western experience: the fraught, essential project of pluralism, of people with many identities living as one.”

Given the current atmosphere of heightened xenophobia, Islamophobia and hate crimes, pluralism has become increasingly tenuous in America. Its success is “a source of insulation against ISIS recruitment here.”


As Khan traversed the country chastising Donald Trump and the alt-right on the consequences of their odious words and aspersions, he also forced Muslims to look in the mirror and grapple with the thorny issues of religious tolerance and homophobia.

Khan has received death threats for voting in support of same-sex marriage. He was noted to be “synagogue hopping” while in Chicago, attended a Holocaust memorial as his first act as London’s mayor and broke his Ramadan fast alongside London's chief rabbi and the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church.

All this at a time when countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan are notorious for systematically denying religious freedom through law, and when Muslims marginalize homosexuals within their community and remain silent on LGBT issues.

London’s mayor is propelled by the belief that you don’t have to agree with another's personal choices to appreciate his or her common humanity and to maintain mutual respect and tolerance. This is what animates him as he dons a kippah or leads his city’s Pride parade.


As Donald Trump and others of his ilk praise the virtues of Brexit and call for similar closures in their countries, Sadiq Khan moves undeterred into the future. The Muslim mayor’s city and capacious heart remain open.

Jalal Baig

Jalal Baig is a physician and writer. He is currently a hematology/oncology fellow at University of Illinois Hospital–Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @jalalbaig.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Brexit Chelsea Bombing Donald Trump Elections 2016 Islamophobia London Sadiq Khan

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