Sunday December 03, 2023

Towards inclusivity

October 25, 2021

In an emotive interview, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan described how hatred towards his race and his religion necessitate 24/7 police protection. Khan has received abuse not only from the right-wing for his Islamic faith, but also because of his Pakistani heritage. This is a moment of shame for our country; a country which likes to claim that racism and religious intolerance are merely things of the past.

Khan is not only London’s first Muslim mayor, but he is also the city’s first ethnic minority mayor. His working-class parents had migrated over to the UK in the 1960s, and he grew up alongside his seven other siblings in a council flat in the London Borough of Wandsworth. Later, he studied law and became a solicitor; his life represents a success story that should inspire any British citizen, regardless of their ethnicity or religious affiliation, to fulfil their potential.

In footage shared by the BBC, Khan explained how he, “the mayor of the greatest city in the world needs protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week because of the colour of his skin and the God he worships. That can’t be right.”

Imagine, for a minute, being in his shoes. You have the great honour of representing your own city as the mayor to bring positive change for the betterment of all people. But you cannot live your life without constant security and surveillance, just in case racists or Islamophobes choose to attack you or, God forbid, your family. All good, hardworking people deserve to lead a normal, private life.

The claim that such people constitute only isolated threats cannot be supported anymore, if we are to learn the lessons of the reports of recent years into ethnic and religious disparities in health and issues of a social and economic nature. Not to mention the increased risk of hate crime or discrimination faced by the UK’s ethnic and religious minorities. These have shown that concrete steps must be taken to prevent institutional and systematic discrimination.

Khan is correct, it simply is not right for anyone to fear for their life on these grounds. Those who are accusing Khan of creating “no-go” areas in London are not only wrong, but they are stoking the fire of religious and communal animosity. They are actually the problem.

Khan is indeed a practicing Muslim but his views, as would be expected of the Mayor of London in 2021, are incredibly tolerant. To belong to the Islamic faith and to have tolerant views is not a contradiction in terms, nor an oxymoron. Yet, so many view Islam as so different to the closely-related Abrahamic faiths that they cannot understand this simple fact.

Intolerant individuals have taken to Twitter to share their displeasure with the mayor of London, using derogatory generalisations about Pakistanis and Muslims in associating them with militants like the Taliban. Often, even more mistakenly, with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Islamic way of living is pitted against that of the West as some malevolent, ideological threat.

The ignorance of these individuals is most embarrassing for themselves, given that they cannot separate fact from fiction, nor can they comprehend the diversity and beauty inherent not only to Islam but to the country of Pakistan.

The belief that Muslims of Pakistani descent are placing themselves in prominent political positions to change the religious and ethnic fabric of society is just as ridiculous a conspiracy as the anti-Semitic claims made against the Jewish community. But the idea that Muslims represent a threat to the West is so ingrained within the subconscious of many that the belief is not so outright condemned.

Such voices represent the true threat faced by our society, that of racial and religious intolerance. When we do not challenge these, we encourage them, and so we must not be bystanders. If we are, we become a part of the problem, because we cannot merely rely on others to change our society into a more tolerant one. It requires a conscious effort from us all.

Mayor Sadiq Khan is a model for everyone to emulate. He, I’m sure, will not be deterred by the intolerant views of a minority. Many would stand alongside him and celebrate how he epitomises what it truly means to be British: respect others, value diversity and achieve inclusion.

The writer is a researcher and is currently undertaking a PhD. She tweets @MaryFloraHunter