Sadiq Khan’s challenge to secularism


London Mayoral candidates Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith at City A.M. debate (photo courtesy of City A.M. – source Getty)

By S. Murtas – Published by on May 13, 2016


Sadiq Khan winning the mayoral race for London depressed me. My favourite to win City Hall was, undoubtedly, Zac Goldsmith. His action plan inspired me, his personality (charming and, what I haven’t expected, full of empathy) conquered me, his approach to the political debate strengthened my urge to take part in it.


I have become so accustomed to think of him as the next Mayor of London, that the electoral result left me with a feeling of emptiness, and a real sense of the lack of purpose. The underlying question remains what went wrong? What undid it for Zac?


Many, in the past few days, have tried to give it an explanation: some offered quite sensible views, others unleashed absolutely ludicrous arguments, trying to blame the Conservative candidate for a campaign they labelled as “racist” that backfired, putting a shame on the party.


As the saying goes, victory has thousands fathers, but defeat is an orphan…


Then, after some soul searching and a few days away from the campaign and the political debate, I’ve come to realize that something more troubling was the source of my uneasiness with Sadiq’s victory. It wasn’t so much the fact that the candidate I rooted for lost the opportunity to make a difference and continue to build a great future for this city, as stinging as defeat was. Rather, it was Sadiq’s choice to reintroduce religion in the political debate, making his Muslim background a crucial point of his vote-winning strategy.


I’m Sadiq Khan, I’m the Muslim son of a Pakistani bus driver, and I’m the Labour candidate for London Mayor has been the Labour candidate’s underline message throughout his campaign, as also pointed out by high-profile Labour supporter Lord Sugar.

Nothing wrong with being proud of one’s origins, you might argue, because we live in a free society that shouldn’t bear prejudices, particularly based on one’s background. And yet, most fail to see that our political correctness is once again allowing religion to creep back in the political debate.


This is extremely disturbing; something our secular society managed to put aside and bury a few centuries ago, thanks to the Enlightenment Age, for the simple reason that religion is bound to be divisive as not belonging to the rational discourse. It stirs the irrational in us (both those with a religion and those without), radicalizes the debate, clouds our minds (some might argue that it frees our spirit), because it’s focused on the emotive sphere rather than the fact-based one.


We are back to square one, folks, with tribalism taking hold of the headlines, which nowadays count more than content. And what’s even more disturbing is the fact that Sadiq seems to have done this knowingly, as pointed out by Maajid Nawaz, Quilliam think tank Chairman, in his piece ‘The secret life of Sadiq Khan’ published on The Daily Beast on 8th May.


Making use of one’s religious background to win votes is not only morally questionable, but is also dangerous. It risks opening the Pandora’s box that we had once managed to close, albeit at a hefty cost of human lives. Trouble is, it was such a long time ago that us, Europeans, had religion as a monopolizing talking point of our everyday life, that we have, somewhat forgotten what it was like.


The UK, and Europe, by and large, has progressed so much over the last few centuries and is so far ahead from those gloomy times, moving towards a model that strives to promote free-thinking, tolerance, and undiscriminating society at all costs. So much so that we perceive every criticism towards religious background as the infringement of those values of freedom our democracies desperately cling on to, punishable with accusations of racism… even if those criticisms are aimed at the use of the religion in the political debate.

In other words, our religious ‘ignorance’ has led us to erroneously equate the Muslim religion to racial background, when in fact, being a Muslim is exclusively an indication of one’s faith, not provenance.


Proof of it is the reaction of the mass-media across Europe. The first Muslim mayor of a European city titled many, unknowingly and naively giving resonance to bone-chilling news – religion has once again broken through becoming a factor in the political discourse.


So it all boils down to one question – why was it OK for Sadiq Khan to conduct a political campaign using his religion to sponsor his candidacy in our secular society?


Were a Catholic, Jew, Protestant, to use his religion as a vote-winning strategy, I am pretty sure it would be derided at best. They would have been heavily contested and criticised for trying to bring something most of us decided to leave in the privacy of our houses and religious establishments a very long time ago.


Before this escalates any further and becomes a habitual political tool, we should stop religious issues from monopolizing the political discourse and stop it from becoming a key factor in the political choices that we make.

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