Sadiq Khan knows how to make himself popular, but he has a duty to open up closed Muslim communities
Sadiq Khan knows how to make himself popular in London: pick a fight with Donald Trump. As one of his first acts as Mayor, he denounced the then Republican presidential candidate, later criticising plans to invite the newly-elected US President on a state visit to Britain. Then, when Islamist terrorists struck at London Bridge in June, Trump rose to the bait: “At least 7 dead and 48 wounded in terror attack and Mayor of London says there is ‘no reason to be alarmed!’” To the defence that the mayoral comment had been taken out of context (it referred to the heightened police presence rather than the attack), the President replied that this was a “pathetic excuse”. His Twitter tirade may have played well in America but made him loathed in Britain, where even his acting ambasssador, Lewis Lukens, dissociated himself by praising Khan’s “strong leadership”. Rising to new heights of popularity in the face of terrorism, Mayor Khan even had the satisfaction of seeing Trump’s state visit, which had been expected in October, postponed indefinitely.
Trump’s intervention was indefensible. Yet there is more than a grain of truth in the charge of complacency. For the Mayor to suggest that, even after two bloody attacks in three months, London was “the safest global city in the world” does seem insouciant. More importantly, he has said very little about the specifically Islamic background to the attacks. He preferred to shift the blame onto the government for cutting Metropolitan Police numbers — though he knew that resources for counterterrorism had been protected and were considered adequate by the Met Commissioner Cressida Dick — as indeed the swift police response had shown.
What has the Mayor actually done? He has appointed a commissioner for victims. He has let it be known that his officials are talking to other cities with relevant experience, including Tel Aviv — though Anglo-Israeli security co-operation is nothing new. He was quick to dissociate himself as a Muslim from the terrorists. But did he make use of his own faith to open up a debate about the toleration of intolerance in many of the mosques of the capital? Has he publicly backed up the Met’s counterterrorism chief Mark Rowley, who has thwarted 13 attacks in four years but complained of the difficulty of prosecuting known IS supporters, such as the London Bridge ringleader Khuram Butt, and called on Muslim communities to be “more assertive in calling out extremists and radicalisers”? Did he question the legal status of Islamist organisations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or Tablighi Jamaat, with known links to terrorism? Has he supported the Prime Minister’s view that, after London and Manchester, new measures are needed to combat extremism, such as those outlined by John Ware elsewhere this issue? Sadiq Khan did none of these things; instead, he took the easy option of focusing on Islamophobia, especially after the deadly attack at Finsbury Park Mosque. Yet the Mayor could do much to mitigate the backlask by challenging Muslims to abandon a siege mentality that is unjustifiable and toxic for Britain.
Why is this highly ambitious man, one of the most powerful Muslims in Europe, so reluctant to take on his co-religionists? During and after his election last year, the Mayor was quick to claim that he had been the victim of a Tory smear campaign. His defeated rival Zac Goldsmith came close to apologising for ever suggesting that Khan had not only represented terrorists in court, but shared platforms with them.
Yet that charge was hardly trumped up. Khan was the chief legal adviser to the Muslim Council of Britain, an Islamist organisation closely linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. He has been closely associated with groups such as Cage, which notoriously defended Mohammed Emwazi, known as “Jihadi John”, and other terrorists. It is true that he has now distanced himself from such organisations and now claims to support moderate Muslims, but he used to call them “Uncle Toms” in the days when he appeared on the Iranian-backed Press TV and the extremist Islam Channel. As Mayor, he has failed to speak out strongly against the extremist Salafist preachers who promote anti-Semitism and homophobia, oppression of women and contempt for infidels. Khan’s record on Muslim integration does not bear comparison with that of, say, his fellow lawyer Nazir Afzal, the former CPS chief prosecutor for North-West England, who has campaigned against forced marriage, honour killings and female genital mutilation, while leading the prosecution of grooming gangs in Rochdale.
Sadiq Khan has been sensitive to the public need for a mayor who looks and sounds like 21st-century London. Most Londoners identify with this energetic, diminutive son of a bus driver, and they take criticism of him from abroad as an insult to their city. But it is clear that the segregated Muslim communities in suburbs like Barking are breeding grounds for Islamist terror. A Muslim Mayor not only has the authority to open up these closed societies — he has a duty to use it. Sadiq Khan should not be underrated as a politician, but his moral leadership is greatly overrated.