Those wondering whether Britain now “gets it” about the threat from Islamic extremism or whether it is still a weak link in the West’s defense chain would do well to look at the election last week of Sadiq Khan as London’s mayor.
During the campaign, several people from the Prime Minister David Cameron downward expressed anxiety about Khan’s past associations with Islamists. Britain’s defense secretary, Michael Fallon, suggested that London would be in more danger from extremists if Khan was in charge (a claim he later softened under pressure).
A strange thing then happened. Khan’s election ricocheted the new mayor and former Labour MP from zero to hero. Those who expressed extremism concerns have been denounced as racists (their attackers appear to think Islam is a race, but let’s put that to one side).
To a Labour Party utterly frantic over its calamitously inept, ultra-leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, Khan became overnight the man of the moment for winning power and doing so by attacking Corbyn from the Right.
No matter that Khan did this in a ruthless maneuver to neutralize the fact that he had actually nominated Corbyn for Labour leader. There’s now even excited talk that Khan could become leader himself.
Labour’s grande dame Harriet Harman said, “We’re all Khanites now” and even simpered: “Doesn’t he look a bit like George Clooney these days?”
Londoners are now telling themselves gleefully they have elected the most powerful Muslim politician in the Western world, representing 8.5 million people and responsible for a £17 billion annual budget.
Khan’s election is being presented as a victory over bigotry. One commentator noted that a “thick, dense fug of self-congratulation” had settled over the city for electing a Muslim.
Ironically, many who have been thus hailing this triumph for inclusivity are the very same people who until last week were noisily denouncing Britain for its irredeemable Islamophobia.
In fact, Khan’s election was a foregone conclusion from the moment he was nominated because London is a Labour city. The departing Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson, the charismatic wit who has become a global political superstar, was a one-off.
Khan had to do very little to win.
The concerns expressed about him, however, remain unaddressed.
His repeated support for a succession of Islamists seemed to go way beyond his duties as a human rights lawyer. For a period, he chaired the legal affairs committee of the Muslim Council of Britain, a group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In 2004, Khan told MPs that the Brotherhood cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi “is not the extremist that he is painted as being,” even though Qaradawi supported suicide bombing in Israel and Iraq and justified wife-beating and the punishment and possible execution of homosexuals.
In 2009, when Khan was Britain’s minister for social cohesion, no less, he went on Iranian state TV to denounce reformist Muslims as “Uncle Toms.”
One of these reformist Muslims, Maajid Nawaz, says Khan is not an Islamist but merely an opportunist politician who pandered to Islamic extremism in order to win Muslim votes.
We don’t know how Khan will choose to govern London. Maybe he will turn out to be a terrific mayor. But whether he proves to be a reformed opportunist or a reformed Islamist, or indeed continues in either of those problematic positions, the election has illuminated something even more disturbing. That is the attitude of Londoners themselves.
The concerns about Khan were said to be “racist” because they featured his Muslim identity. Yet those congratulating themselves for their tolerance in electing a Muslim are the only ones characterizing him in terms of his religion.
By contrast, the concerns expressed during the campaign were not over his Muslim identity. They were over his previous support for Islamist radicals and terrorists.
His Conservative opponent, Zac Goldsmith, said Khan was “giving platform, oxygen and cover to extremists.” Goldsmith was promptly accused of “dog whistle” racism. His accusers were thus effectively saying that any concern about Islamist extremism was racist.
Which is precisely what the Muslim world has said by inventing the sinister neologism Islamophobia to silence vital discussion about Islamic extremism.
A key problem is that the Islamic world refuses to accept responsibility for Islamist extremism, instead presenting Muslims as victims. True reformist Muslims reject this approach.
Shortly after his appointment as mayor of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, Moroccan- born Ahmed Aboutaleb said his message to immigrants was “Stop seeing yourself as victims, and if you don’t want to integrate, leave.” After the Paris attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket he repeated this uncompromising message, saying: “If you do not like it here because some humorists you don’t like are making a newspaper, may I then say you can f*** off.”
Sadiq Khan has not adopted this robust approach. While denouncing terrorism and extremism, he nevertheless constantly presents Muslims as victims of the non-Muslim world.
In his first statement as mayor, Khan falsely accused David Cameron of driving a wedge between Londoners on ethnic lines. Despite berating the prime minister for distracting attention from issues of concern to all Londoners such as housing, transport and healthcare, the new mayor’s very first comments played the Muslim card.
Soon afterward he played it again by denouncing Donald Trump for intending to bar Muslims from America until its administration could “figure out” Islamic extremism. Rejecting Trump’s statement that he would make an exception for London’s new mayor, Khan declared he was speaking for all Muslims. Why, though, should the utterances of an American presidential candidate be any business of London’s mayor? Now Khan is love-bombing London’s Jews. He was first off the block to condemn Jeremy Corbyn for failing to address the rampant anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. His initial engagement as mayor was to attend a Holocaust remembrance ceremony; he has even floated the idea of leading a trade mission to Tel Aviv.
Yet this is a man who has supported murderous anti-Semites, who himself called for sanctions against Israel during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008 and who, during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, condemned Israel for causing “death, suffering and hardship” and “the killing of hundreds of innocent civilians.”
It is possible that he has now embarked on a genuine journey of reconciliation with Israel and friendship with the Jewish people. It is also possible that, in order to sanitize himself, he knows it is vital he is given a stamp of approval by the Jewish community.
If Israel were again forced to take military action against Hamas in Gaza, though, does anyone believe Khan would not once again be lending his voice to the false and anti-Jewish narrative of Israeli atrocities? Of course, he could say this is merely how the whole of progressive Britain views Israel. In this, he would be entirely correct. That’s why Sadiq Khan is not the real problem in Londonistan.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for
The Times (UK).