Contrary to the racist headlines surrounding London’s new Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, the feeling of those who live there is yes he Khan.
You may have missed it, but even in space (actually true) they were following the mayoral elections in London. We Londoners do like a good show but this time, we really have pulled some crazy rabbit out of the hat. We, the people, have voted overwhelmingly for Sadiq Khan, to succeed Boris Johnson, as the first Muslim mayor of one of Europe’s biggest cities, and a major global financial centre.
First, a lady in hijab wins the Great Brtish Bake Off!
And now this.
The headlines have come fast and furious. The Drudge Report, the right-wing US website, even exclaimed, “First Muslim Mayor of Londonistan.” In some French and Belgian circles, they think we have gone mad. As far as the French National Front of Marine le Pen‘s is concerned, London is now the capital of the YouTube Caliphate. A tiny, tiny British neo-Nazi sect who march against the take over by “Muslamics” had “warned” of this all along, anyway.
Nothing new there.
Meanwhile in Londonistan, it is business as usual. To put it politely, they cannot care less. The fact that Sadiq Khan is a Muslim is, as the Financial Times put it, “incidental.” The fact that he is a Muslim who, as a Labour MP, voted for gay marriage, makes him a typical Londoner. And the fact that he is the London-born son of a Pakistani bus driver and seamstress who grew up in a council housing estate in a bleak part of South London, highlights that London is an immigrant city and a wholly egalitarian one.
One in three people are foreign born. According to the 2011 census, a fat majority are second or third generation progeny, often with dual nationality. Some 300 languages are spoken in the city. The biggest group by far is Indian, followed by Pakistanis, Chinese, and a surprisingly big Colombian community.
But the fastest growing group are the Iraqis, mostly from Baghdad, who have taken over in entrepreneurial prowess from the Lebanese.
Some elder statesmen have observed, and not without bafflement, that London “seems to develop in a totally opposite direction from the rest of the country.”
And that is for most big cities in the world, a “mathematical truth,” to quote Donald Trump in freestyle. London is a global trendsetter in many fields, so as well as offering the London Look in mascara it can perhaps provide the London Model on how to run a big cosmopolitan city in the post-Melting Pot, multicultural and Global Village era. In short: the real, raw thing on the ground. But whereas cities like Paris are very divided in a cloud of denial, London, warts and all, is not.
In short: the real, raw thing on the ground. But whereas cities like Paris are very divided in a cloud of denial, London, warts and all, is not.
Here I have to insert a quick footnote. I am a Londoner, so I am not without bias. Londoners are very territorial and tribal. Forget briefly their Hakka that theirs is “the greatest city on earth.” It is, but they are a pragmatic lot kept going by quick, independent thinking and a ruthless sense of humor. Londoners do not vote for a party but for their city. (Never underestimate that strong sense of ownership.) They vote for the best person for the job, as such it is one super enhanced job interview. Most of the same people who voted for Boris Johnson, the very popular Conservative Party mayor for eight years, now voted for Sadiq Khan. When Sadiq Khan was asked whether it was a victory for Jeremy Corbin, the ultra left wing and controversial new leader of the party, for Labour, or for Khan, he answered: “It is a victory for London.” Correct answer. London voters of every ilk were unphased by smear campaigns and slurs linking him to “extremism.”
So seen through this prism, this is, in my opinion, as Londoner and a stubborn exponent of independence of mind and a strong supporter of meritocracy, a good news story. It proves that participating democracy works, in fact, it is vibrant and alive. Londoners are on first name terms with their mayor and they talk back. If your ego cannot handle that don’t bother to apply for the job. It is, without too much exaggeration, the basics of the Magna Carta everyone equal under the law.
It cannot be a coincidence that Bill de Blassio, the mayor of New York, was one of the first to congratulate Sadiq Khan. New Yorkers and Londoners have a lot in common. Apart from anything else they are both wholly unrepresentative of the countries at large and both immigrant cities with superimposed concerns.
Bill is in trouble, and he knows it. He understands the job at hand but his ego was not always on board. He is action man, a man of few words. He believes that deeds speak louder than words. It has always been a tradition for New York politicians to be available to the people. Bill did away with that. He scrapped the weekly phone-in radio program where New Yorkers can literally talk to their mayor. He said it was “a waste of time.” Wrong. He is back on the air.
What all mayors of London demonstrate is how vital it is to communicate with people.
Sadiq Khan’s slogan is “Yes, We Khan.” Suitably cheesy, but to the point.
Boris Johnson turned up with a broom after a wave of riots.
Another mayor on speed dial with City Hall on the banks of the Thames is Chicago’s leader. Chicago is a deeply divided city where its black and Latino populations are trapped in a “civil” war waged by gangs kitted out with the finest of arms. London is on high alert for a possible terrorist attack – it always is – but that is not, to the chagrin of Muslim bashers, its main concern. Gang violence and hate crime are. The gangs of South London could feature with gusto in any episode of CSI New York or Miami.
The unique problems and challenges of fast growing cities have kept planners busy since ancient times. Ancient Rome was also a multicultural, immigrant city, full of haves and have-nots. Rome’s security threats were probably even bigger than those of Chicago. Los Angeles, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Shanghai, Bangkok, Mumbai, and your own Sydney. Read the biographies of twelve successive Roman rulers by the historian Seutonius (De Vita Caeserium) to get an idea. Blue Sky thinking, to use that ridiculous concept, is no use. You need a bloke with a broom, a human rights lawyer who boxes, a woman with chutzpah. But most of all you need a person who believes in the principles of participating democracy, in the active involvement of people at all levels. London, warts and all, is a prime example of a global city that is a remarkably civilised place. Sadiq Khan has famously said, “I have never had any doubts about my abilities.”
And that clinched the vote.