Lon­don’s bridge to Euro­pean Mus­lims

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIALS & COMMENT -

ONE news nar­ra­tive in Eu rope has been the rise of anti-Is­lam ex­trem­ism, re­flected in the elec­toral gains of na­tion­al­ist par­ties that por­tray Mus­lims as “the other.” This sto­ry­line about re­li­gious in­equal­ity, how­ever, is not sus­tain­able in the face of some ob­vi­ous facts on the ground, let alone the val­ues of a con­ti­nent his­tor­i­cally rooted in mu­tual re­spect for sec­tar­ian dif­fer­ences. One fact that should help over­turn the nar­ra­tive was the May 6 elec­tion of a Mus­lim as mayor of Lon­don, one of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial cites. The son of im­mi­grants from Pak­istan, Sadiq Khan won by a greater vote mar­gin than the two pre­vi­ous may­ors. He is now one of the most promi­nent Mus­lim politi­cians in the West, although he prom­ises to be Mayor for all Lon­don­ers.

To make his point, Mr. Khan took of­fice at a cer­e­mony in Lon­don’s South­wark Cathe­dral. A hu­man rights lawyer who rose up from poverty, he also was able to main­tain a warm spirit of in­clu­sive­ness dur­ing the elec­tion cam­paign when some op­po­nents tried to tag him as a friend of ter­ror­ists. “Fear doesn’t make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the pol­i­tics of fear is sim­ply not wel­come in our city,” he said at his swear­ing-in. That sort of mes­sage, com­bined with the op­por­tu­ni­ties in Europe for mi­nori­ties like him to be elected to high po­si­tion, helps un­der­cut a strong re­cruit­ing mes­sage for ISIS and other vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists. Khan’s elec­tion also points to the ab­sur­dity of stereo­typ­ing all Mus­lims as a threat, which is a theme of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in the United States. Another fact on the ground in Europe is the steady work done since 2015 to re­set­tle Syr­ian asy­lum seek­ers, ei­ther many of those who fled by boat to Greece or those who have ap­plied legally in the Mid­dle East. De­spite con­cerns raised by some politi­cians, the Euro­pean Union is em­brac­ing those op­posed to both ISIS and a dic­ta­tor­ship in Syria – and who chose to flee to Europe. Euro­peans can also note another counter-nar­ra­tive fact about the treat­ment of Mus­lims: the May 7 re­open­ing of a historic mosque in Banja Luka, a Serb re­gion of Bos­nia. The orig­i­nal 16th-cen­tury mosque, called Fer­had Pasha, was de­stroyed by Chris­tian Serbs dur­ing the Bos­nian war of the 1990s and re­placed with a park­ing lot. Its re­build­ing 23 years later, said Bos­nian Serb Pres­i­dent Milo­rad Dodik at a cer­e­mony that in­cluded Mus­lims, Jews, and Chris­tians, sends a mes­sage of peace. In an April re­port on Is­lam­ophoia in Europe, the Turk­ish think-tank SETA made a rec­om­men­da­tion for ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and other stake­hold­ers to work to­wards cre­at­ing an “al­ter­na­tive nar­ra­tive” about Mus­lims and to dis­pel a neg­a­tive im­age of Is­lam. That work may al­ready be un­der­way. It just needs to be no­ticed. — The Chris­tian Science Mon­i­tor

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