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Ding Gang: London’s first Muslim mayor sets example of community integration

2016-05-12

By Ding Gang    Source: Global Times    Published: 2016-5-11

 

Last week, London elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, who soon grabbed headlines across the world. Even the Islamophobic US presidential candidate Donald Trump congratulated Khan on his victory. Although he has said he will ban Muslims from coming to the US, Trump said he would issue a permit to Khan if he came to the US. But Khan responded to this "kind" offer with "No thanks."


Having a Muslim take the helm of a Western metropolis is a big step forward for the Western world, and indicative of the open-mindedness of the UK as an established Western powerhouse. But it came a bit late for the UK given its long history of Muslim immigration.


More than 70 years ago, then British prime minister Winston Churchill donated a sum of money to build a mosque in central London. With then King George IV invited to attend the opening ceremony, it opened to the public in 1944. Now, it is estimated that there are nearly 400 mosques in London alone.


The population of British Muslims has been growing fast in recent years. In 1951, there were only about 20,000 Muslims, but the number rose to about 370,000 two decades later. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center in 2014, there are about 2.8 million Muslims living in the UK, which accounts for 4.8 percent of Britain`s population.


If we take all the Christian denominations as one religion, Islam has become the second biggest faith in the UK and many other European countries, but was not until the last 20 or 30 years that Muslims have started to come to the fore in politics. A politician with a Muslim background is a rarity in Western Europe.


The sensation caused by the new mayor`s Pakistani origin and Muslim background reveals that Muslims` integration into the majority of the society has been a perennial question in Western Europe such as the UK. The first Muslim mayor in London is not an illustration of Europe being Islamized, but an individual case showing how Muslims are being integrated into the European society.


Khan`s Muslim background has caused different influences on his triumph in the election. For many British people, Khan is first and foremost a well-educated rights lawyer, a seasoned politician and an experienced leader, rather than a Muslim.


Although he prays in a mosque instead of a church, Khan is still a member of the British politics. He opposes Brexit and usually adopts an ordinary perspective to view city administration. Some of his proposals, such as freezing bus and tube fares, are tailored to meet the requirements of the citizens. Therefore, in a stark contrast to his people-friendly policies, his Muslim background and belief in Islam are not particularly prominent.


After the September 11 attacks, US political scientist Francis Fukuyama warned Europe that it must face up to the serious problem with Islamic integration into mainstream society because most of the perpetrators were Muslims educated in Europe. The terrorist attacks in Europe have made more and more Europeans change their mind: A diverse and multi-cultural society won`t solve immigration problems. Only by absorbing the minorities into the wider European civilization can the serious conflicts between Muslims and mainstream Europeans be settled.


In 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that Germany`s effort to build multiculturalism has "utterly failed." She asked immigrants to learn to speak German and do more to adapt to German society.


Merkel`s shift to a tougher stand to deal with the Muslim problem unveils a zero-sum game between the Muslim immigrants and European traditions: Either the European civilization assimilates these immigrant Muslims, or the expansion of extremist ideologies, especially fundamentalism and extremism, might inflict damage to the unity and lineage of European civilization.


As the newly-elected London mayor, Khan could set an example for his Muslim counterparts, some of whom remain divorced from British mainstream culture and circle around mosques and the Muslim community, although surveys show that Muslims profess greater loyalty to the UK and to British values than other citizens. But still, before the majority of Muslim immigrants can be integrated into the mainstream society in Europe, there is a long way ahead. Otherwise, they will continue to be segregated at the bottom of society, and stir a backlash from European whites in conflicts of interest.


The author is a senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

Key Words: Islam   UK   community  

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