Sadiq Khan, London’s new mayor and arguably western Europe’s most significant Muslim, has been in Montreal, Chicago and New York promoting his message that “London is open” for business and investment to people of all faiths and backgrounds, true to his campaign header of multi-culturalism and pluralism.
At a forum called “Building Inclusive and Progressive Cities” hosted by Khan’s friend Bill de Blasio, New York City mayor, who described Khan as a “spunky young man from London”, Khan said he was proud of his British, European, Asian, Muslim and Pakistani identities. “When you become a successful politician, whether it’s a mayor, a Member of Parliament or a President, it’s really important to be inclusive… I will say this with humility but to be frank: I’m not a Muslim mayor, I am a mayor of Islamic faith,” he continued.
In a reference to former British Prime Minister David Cameron, who drew attention to Khan’s colourful past, he said his opponent was creating the impression that London “wasn’t ready to elect a politician of Islamic faith” and that some of the “worst sorts of Islamophobia you’ve ever seen were commented on during the campaign”. De Blasio commented that the 11 September, 2001 attacks brought on a “rampant Islamophobia”. As a former human rights solicitor after 9/11, Khan was part of the team defending Zacharias Moussaoui, one of the Al Qaeda masterminds behind the Twin Tower attack, but Khan has successfully disassociated himself from the accusations of links with extremism.
It is well documented Khan has taken offence previously at some of Donald Trump’s more elaborate statements of temporarily banning Muslims from entry to the US, although Trump did say he would make an exception for Khan.
In New York City, Khan shared platform with Bill Clinton at the Foundation’s 2016 Initiative, discussing the challenges facing London after Brexit (Khan was a vociferous Remainer) and the increasing importance of cities as drivers of global change.
Previously, Khan had delivered a 45-minute speech to the Chicago Council of Global Affairs during which he focused largely on anti-Muslim views, immigration and extremism. He said, “We play straight into the hands of those who seek to divide us, of extremists and terrorists around the world, when we imply that it is not possible to hold Western values and to be a Muslim.” Khan talked about building bridges and uniting communities and then claimed he was a big fan of Hillary Clinton: “She’s arguably the most experienced candidate to run to be the President.” Khan and Chicago mayor, Rham Emanuel, signed a document inaugurating the “Chicago-London City Data Alliance,” a joint venture to distribute and measure city data improving both cities.
It is to be expected that Khan has further political ambitions. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Khan have been allies of convenience. Khan supported Corbyn in the general election and Corbyn supported Khan for mayor but that may be as far as it goes. Khan is likely to hold ambitions for the Labour leadership in a few years. He is likely to present himself as to the right of Labour, more like Tony Blair but with tacit sympathies for an Islamic agenda. The one thing Corbyn and Khan may have in common is engagement with London’s pro-independence Tamil groups.
During his election campaign Khan emphasised his “Indian background” and hopes to make India a destination to win back the diaspora who voted Conservative in the last UK general election.