Election in London, a Triumph of Hope over Fear
Professor Nazeer Ahmed
The march of civilizations on the canvas of history is measured by benchmarks, some as momentous as a major war, some as small as the movement of an ant on a rock in the darkness of night. Future scribes will record the election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London as a significant event in the evolving history of Muslims in the western world.
The election punctured a hole in the Islamophobic narrative nurtured over a period of two decades by interested parties. It brought the dialectic between Islam and the West back to the rational center where it belongs and opened up the existential possibility of a collaborative world civilization.
In an interview soon after his election Sadiq Khan said: “There is no clash of civilization between Islam and the West. I am the West, I am a Londoner, I’m British, I’m of Islamic faith, Asian origin, Pakistan heritage, so whether it’s [ISIS] or these others who want to destroy our way of life and talk about the West, they’re talking about me.” This is straight talk from a man who will no doubt represent the face of modern Islam in the western world.
What is refreshing about Khan is that he is honest and open about his Islamic faith and his Pakistani heritage. So often, Muslim candidates hide their identity behind false names, masquerading as anglicized secularists. Khan has shown that such masquerading is unnecessary in an open society. If you are worthy, you cannot be held back.
In a shrunken world when human progress is limited only by the speed of light and man’s capacity to absorb change, and the movement of people from one part of the world to another is commonplace, individuals have multiple identities. This was expressed aptly by Mr. Khan in his interview. As applied to Muslims in America this connotes that one can at once be an American, a Muslim, a South Asian, a Pakistani, a doctor or a soldier, a parent and a good neighbor. There is no contradiction between one and the other. In a close-knit world, identities overlap. It is like air and light occupying the same space at the same time.
The American Muslim community has faced a sustained barrage of negative stereotyping in recent years, from Trump to Carson to Geller. Muslim youth, in their formative years, are particularly sensitive to social pressures and become targets for right wing extremist recruiting. The election in London shows that there is a third alternative, namely, inclusive participation in a progressive civil society. To quote Mr. Khan, “you say to youngsters you can be British, Muslim and successful. You point to successful British role models. The biggest export we’ve got is [former One Direction singer] Zayn Malik. The most successful British sports person ever is Mohamed Farah, a double Olympic champion and a world record holder. Who won the Great British Bake Off? Nadiya Hussain. We can point to, when we speak to young Brits of Islamic faith, successful role models. You can go in to business, you can go in to medicine, you can go to politics, dare I say it. So, when somebody comes along and tries to brainwash them with a sort of nihilistic view of life and say the way to get success in this world and the hereafter is to get a Kalashnikov and go to commit “jihad” is to say ‘you know what? That’s not true.’ There are successful role models in America from Nobel Prize winner Aziz Sancar to basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Fazlur Rahman who designed the Sears Tower in Chicago.
There are between 3 and 6 million Muslims in America. They have a significant presence in six large states: New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Virginia, Texas and Michigan. There is also a noticeable presence in California. These states together account for over 150 votes in the Electoral College, more than half of what it takes to elect a President. Elections in America are often decided by a percentage point or less between the two major political parties. Working together, Muslims in these states can make a difference in the upcoming elections so that Islamophobic candidates are rejected and “hope triumphs over fear”. Such a coalition was indeed achieved in 2000 by my good friend Dr. Agha Saeed. The effort needs to be institutionalized.
Islam is waging a civil war for its soul, hammered between extremism and Islamophobia. The resulting chaos, both physical and intellectual is fertile ground for fishing by the radicals.
Radicalism has many roots: resentment at foreign invasions, wars at home against authoritarian regimes, extremist religious propaganda from the Middle East. Muslim intelligentsia have yet to rise to the challenge and articulate a coherent, comprehensive, inclusive, scientific-spiritual vision of Islam which radiates grace and love for all humanity. The election in London helps charter a path in that direction.
As a student of science and history, I am amazed at the resourcefulness and resilience of the British. Just when you are ready to write them off, they surprise the nay-sayers and come up on top. This time, they have marched to the winning podium on the moral pedestal.
So, we say, three cheers for the British, one for inclusiveness, two for fairness, and three for making it easier for Muslims who are at the forefront of a battle for a loving, inclusive Islam that radiates grace and goodness.