Will London Elect its First Muslim Mayor? – The Atlantic

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Which makes the current front-runner’s candidacy all the more interesting. Labour’s Sadiq Khan, a 45-year-old son of working-class Pakistani immigrants who fled the chaos of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in the 1940s, is poised to claim victory Thursday. He entered public life as a human-rights lawyer, taking on cases challenging racial discrimination and police brutality, before entering Parliament. From there, he rose rapidly to serve as a minister in Gordon Brown’s government and the Labour opposition thereafter, before gravitating toward a run for London’s highest office.

A victory by Khan would be a signal moment in both British and European politics, to say the least. One year after Labour’s thorough defeat in the general elections, retaking London City Hall would a much-needed boost for the party as it tacks to the left under Jeremy Corbyn, its leader. It would also usher in the first Muslim mayor of the European Union’s largest city, a historic milestone as the continent, much like Britain itself, wrestles with identity, immigration, and integration.

Khan, for his part, does not see his identity as a British Muslim in binary terms. “I’m a Londoner, I’m European, I’m British, I’m English, I’m of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband,” he said in a New York Times interview. In the campaign, he’s emphasized core issues for Londoners such as affordable housing and transportation. But his overall message is one of cosmopolitanism and embracing London’s diversity.

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate and Khan’s principal opponent, has a different origin story. A wealthy scion of a billionaire banker and the British aristocracy, the 41-year-old Goldsmith seemed like a natural leader in the next generation of Tories. He set himself apart through his interests in direct democracy and environmentalism, the latter of which was nurtured by years writing for an ecology-oriented magazine.

But as the campaign entered its final weeks, the clash turned to issues of religion and ethnicity. In April, Goldsmith accused Khan of “giving platform, oxygen, and cover” to Muslim extremists, which Khan vehemently denied. British Prime Minister David Cameron then echoed his Conservative colleague’s remarks on the House of Commons floor and criticized Khan for appearances alongside Sulaiman Ghani, a fundamentalist imam in Tooting, the constituency Khan represents in Parliament.

Will London Elect its First Muslim Mayor? – The Atlantic