London elects first Muslim mayor

NO POLITICS OF FEAR: Fear does not make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city. - MR SADIQ KHAN (above), in his acceptance speech
NO POLITICS OF FEAR: Fear does not make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city. - MR SADIQ KHAN (above), in his acceptance speech

LONDON • In a Europe struggling with a rise in Islamophobia, riven by debates about Syrian migrants and on edge over religious, ethnic and cultural disputes, London has elected its first Muslim mayor.

Mr Sadiq Khan - a Labour Party leader, a former human rights lawyer and a son of a bus driver from Pakistan - was declared the winner after a count that extended into yesterday. He will be the first Muslim to lead Britain's capital.

The victory also makes him one of the most prominent Muslim politicians in the West. In his acceptance speech, he said the election "was not without controversy", adding that he was "proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division". He said: "I hope we will never be offered such a stark choice again... Fear does not make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city."

London is hardly representative of Britain: A quarter of its residents are foreign-born, and one-eighth are Muslim. And Mr Khan is not the first Muslim to hold prominent office in Europe: Rotterdam in the Netherlands has had a Muslim mayor since 2009, and Mr Sajid Javid is British Secretary of State for Business.

Nonetheless, Mr Khan, 45, won a striking victory - with 56.8 per cent of the vote versus 43.2 per cent for main rival Zac Goldsmith.

Britain has not had a large-scale terrorist attack since 2005, and its Muslim population, in contrast with France's, is considered well -integrated. But an estimated 800 people have left Britain to fight for or support the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Assaults on British Muslims were reported after the Paris terrorist attacks in November.

Mr Khan's campaign focused on bread-and-butter issues like housing and transportation costs. He drew strong support from labour unions and kept a distance from party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist who has an ardent base among young voters but faces heavy resistance among fellow Labour lawmakers.

Mr Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate, attacked Mr Khan's past advocacy for criminal defendants, including his opposition to the extradition of a man who was later convicted in the United States of supporting terrorism. He said Mr Khan had given "oxygen and cover" to extremists. When Prime Minister David Cameron repeated those assertions in Parliament, he was accused of racism.

Mr Khan defended his work as a human rights lawyer, and he has said he hopes Mr Donald Trump - the presumptive Republican presidential candidate who has called for barring Muslims from entering the United States - "loses badly".

Mr Khan's victory was also his party's biggest boost in elections on Thursday in which Labour further lost its grip on Scotland and clung to seats in England and Wales.

In Pakistan, his victory was greeted with celebration. News of the win featured on the front pages of all major Pakistani newspapers yesterday, while also causing a stir on social media.

"Congratulations @SadiqKhan 4 being elected mayor of London," tweeted Mr Bilawal Bhutto, leader of the opposition Pakistan People's Party and son of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto.

"British Pakistanis need (a) role model," he added.

NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 08, 2016, with the headline 'London elects first Muslim mayor'. Print Edition | Subscribe