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London’s New Muslim Mayor: Extremist or Opportunist?

Former Islamist turned counter-radicalism activist Majid Nawaz’s assessment of London’s new Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, is that he is not an Islamist extremist. He is merely a manipulative politician willing to use guile and duplicity to achieve his electoral aims — not so different from the average politician.

Leading up to the mayoral vote, questions arose about Khan’s association with extremists, which constitutes a long list in the new mayor’s political history. 

Consider:

  • In 2001, Khan was the lawyer for the American radical Islamist group Nation of Islam, successfully arguing in front of the UK’s High Court to overturn the ban on its leader, Louis Farrakhan.
  • In 2003, Khan appeared at a conference with Sajeel Abu Ibrahim, a member of the banned al-Muhajiroun group that was founded by hate preacher Omar Bakri Muhammad (now prohibited from entering the UK) and led by hate preacher Anjem Choudary (whose many organizations have been said to have contributed “the single biggest gateway to terrorism in recent British history”). Sajeel also ran a terrorist training camp in Pakistan attended by 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan.
  • In 2004, Khan testified to the House of Commons as head of the Muslim Council of Britain’s legal affairs committee. As council legal head, Khan argued in parliament that the Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual leader Yusuf Al-Qaradawi “is not the extremist that he is painted as being.” Qaradawi (also banned in the UK for his extremist views) advocates, among other sharia principles, for wife beating and suicide bombings against Israeli citizens. After the murder of an Ahmadi Muslim in Scotland for wishing his Christian customers a peaceful Easter, the council “condemned” the incident by pointing out that Ahmadis are not Muslims.
  • Khan was the defense lawyer for Zacarias Moussaoui, a 9/11 terrorist and confessed member of Al Qaeda.
  • Khan attended events for the extremist group CAGE and wrote a forward for one of their reports. CAGE is a primary supporter of the Islamic State executioner known as “Jihadi John,” who they described as a “beautiful young man.”
  • Khan appeared on panels with Muslim community leader and cleric Suliman Gani, a supporter of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), no less than nine times.
  • In 2010, Khan shamelessly played the Ahmadi card, flaring up sectarian hatred in his reelection bid to the parliament when faced with stiff competition from Nasser Butt, an Ahmadi who had opposed the war in Iraq unlike Khan who had voted in favor of it.

Defending himself against charges of extremism, Khan points to his record on supporting rights for homosexual and transsexual rights. Since he was first elected to parliament in 2005, that support has been unwavering.

Khan has been an outspoken critic of anti-Semitism. Most recently, he stated he was “embarrassed and sorrowful” about the glaring anti-Semitism that has been spotlighted in his own party.

As the Muslim Public Affairs Committee in the UK (MPAC-UK) derogatorily pointed out in a comment piece on their website posted just two days before the election, “A Vote for Sadiq Khan in the London Mayor Elections is a Vote for Israel.”

Much to MPAC-UK’s chagrin and dismay, Khan is an opponent of the anti-Israel BDS movement. Although he called for sanctions against Israel in 2009, he says he has since changed his mind.

On the last day of his campaign, it was revealed that in an interview Khan gave in 2009 on Iranian television, he referred to Muslims fighting extremism as “Uncle Toms.”  (He has since apologized.)

Still, Majid Nawaz insists that Khan is no extremist. Khan was Nawaz’s lawyer when he was arrested in Egypt for working for the banned Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. Nawaz, now a prominent counter-extremism campaigner, says he is forever indebted to Khan for visiting him in Egypt’s Mazra Tora prison, “while the world gave up on me.”

Ironically, it was Nawaz’s counter-extremism foundation Quilliam that was targeted by Khan in his “Uncle Tom” remarks.

Nawaz refrained from commenting on Khan and his electoral bid until after the election. In his first piece penned after the election, Nawaz paints a picture of Khan as a realist (read: opportunistic) and consummate politician.

“When push comes to shove, gaining power becomes more important for politicians from all parties, than defending principles,” writes Nawaz. “And sadly, extremists remain among the most powerful organized forces in Britain’s Muslim grassroots.”

Nawaz explains the unfortunate political climate in today’s Britain: “By 2009, extremism had grown so rife among my own British Muslim community that, in a sign of our times, a Muslim government minister for Social Cohesion [Khan] would find it politically expedient to call a group of Muslims, who were not in government, 'Uncle Toms' simply for criticizing extremism.”

Yet, Nawaz doesn’t give Khan a free pass, saying, “It did not need to be like this. As a column in the Wall Street Journal recently noted, ‘Other Muslim leaders took a different approach.’

“The struggles that reforming liberal and ex-Muslims face every day, the dehumanization, the delegitimization, the excommunication, the outcasting, the threats, intimidation and the violence makes this inexcusable … Why is it okay for a mayor to have shared panels with all manner of Muslim extremists, while actively distancing himself from, and smearing, counter-extremist Muslims?”

A good question it would behoove the new mayor to answer.

 

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org

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