Lon­don’s re­sponse to ex­trem­ists


RE­FER­RING to the elec­tion of the first Mus lim, Sadiq Khan, as mayor of Lon­don, my in­ter­locu­tor said, “I feel so proud of my city.” She is Catholic, though she iden­ti­fies first and fore­most as Bri­tish. But, like many other Lon­don­ers, she was in­spired by Khan’s mes­sage of hope over fear.

Khan’s elec­tion con­trasts sharply with dy­nam­ics that seem to be at work else­where in the West. Euro­pean pop­u­la­tions — in Hun­gary and Poland, and with a close call in Aus­tria — are fall­ing prey to in­creas­ingly rad­i­cal, openly xeno­pho­bic pop­ulism. In the United States, Don­ald Trump’s bom­bas­tic big­otry has won him the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for the pres­i­dency.

Lon­don­ers cer­tainly had the op­tion of in­tol­er­ance. They could have voted for the Con­ser­va­tive can­di­date, Zac Gold­smith, who per­sis­tently ac­cused Khan of hav­ing ties with “rad­i­cal Mus­lims fig­ures.”

The ex­pec­ta­tion, with­out rea­son or ev­i­dence, that any Mus­lim per­son is linked to ex­trem­ism is un­de­ni­ably racist. Lev­el­ing such ac­cu­sa­tions against a Mus­lim run­ning for pub­lic of­fice has noth­ing to do with pro­tect­ing the pub­lic in­ter­est. The pur­pose of such tac­tics is to re­in­force the no­tion that no Mus­lim can be trusted to hold an im­por­tant lead­er­ship po­si­tion.

In some cases, there are ques­tions about how Is­lam’s ad­her­ents, in­clud­ing some of its most vis­i­ble rep­re­sen­ta­tives, ap­proach the sub­ject of Is­lam’s role in the West. The scholar Tariq Ra­madan, for ex­am­ple, has spo­ken of the rise of a “Euro­pean Is­lam,” which an­chors Is­lamic prin­ci­ples to the cul­tural re­al­ity of Western Europe.

The chal­lenges that may arise when in­cor­po­rat­ing Is­lam into Europe’s al­ready-di­verse so­ci­eties do not, in any sense, mean that Mus­lims can­not be trusted to lead well. Yet some, par­tic­u­larly in France, are now warn­ing that Khan’s elec­tion is the first step to­ward a not-too-dis­tant fu­ture in which Mus­lims im­pose Is­lamic law on Euro­pean coun­tries, a sce­nario made vivid by Michel Houelle­becq’s latest novel, Sub­mis­sion. (The book, how­ever, can be in­ter­preted less as a pre­dic­tion of a Mus­lim takeover than as a crit­i­cism of French po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, which seems to ad­here to the mantra, “Any­one but the Na­tional Front.”)

The im­pli­ca­tions of Khan’s elec­tion are likely to con­tra­dict the big­ots and fear­mon­gers. In­deed, be­yond act­ing as a slap in the face to Europe’s pop­ulist forces, Khan’s vic­tory will deal a blow to Daesh, which for the pur­pose of re­cruit­ment de­pends on young Euro­pean Mus­lims’ feel­ings of hu­mil­i­a­tion, marginal­iza­tion, and fail­ure.

With a Mus­lim as mayor of Lon­don — a great western city, which has suf­fered bru­tal ter­ror­ist at­tacks — it will be that much harder for ji­hadists to con­vince po­ten­tial re­cruits in the West that their gov­ern­ments and so­ci­eties are seek­ing to re­press them. If young Mus­lims can suc­ceed in the West, why would they give up their lives for Daesh, which is al­ready los­ing ground in Iraq and Syria?

Of course, Mus­lim suc­cess sto­ries like Khan’s re­main too few and far be­tween. But there is much to be gained from rec­og­niz­ing, pub­li­ciz­ing and mul­ti­ply­ing them. This would prob­a­bly be eas­ier to achieve in Bri­tain than in France, which re­mains fix­ated on laïc­ité (the ab­so­lute sep­a­ra­tion of church and state that is at the core of French repub­li­can iden­tity).

In short, by re­ject­ing Is­lam­o­pho­bia and re­it­er­at­ing their be­lief in the val­ues of an open so­ci­ety, Lon­don­ers have dealt a blow to Is­lamists. But it would be dan­ger­ous to over­es­ti­mate the im­pli­ca­tions of Khan’s elec­tion.

For one thing, Lon­don is hardly rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the en­tire United King­dom, much less the rest of Europe or the West as a whole. The city is more cos­mopoli­tan than New York, as cul­tur­ally dy­namic as Berlin, and much more self-confident than Paris. It is ex­cep­tional in its en­ergy and open­ness. If only Lon­don­ers were to vote in the June 23 ref­er­en­dum, they would most likely choose to re­main in the EU, de­spite the Union’s flaws.

For an­other, Lon­don’s open­ness and con­fi­dence is de­pen­dent, at least partly, on eco­nomic growth and pros­per­ity. Af­ter all, it is far eas­ier to share a large and grow­ing pie. The “Pol­ish plumber” who contributed so clearly to the beau­ti­fi­ca­tion of Lon­don start­ing in the early 1990s was an eco­nomic as­set, never a threat, and at least in­di­rectly paved the way for work­ers from other coun­tries and cul­tures.

None­the­less, the open­ness of Lon­don­ers — es­pe­cially at a mo­ment when so many of their western coun­ter­parts are be­ing tempted by big­otry — is wor­thy of cel­e­bra­tion. Rather than an­swer­ing fear with more fear, they elected the bet­ter can­di­date, re­gard­less of re­li­gion. That is how it should be.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Pakistan

© PressReader. All rights reserved.