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.
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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