London Mayor election...Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan and his wife Saadiya arrive at City Hall in London as counting continues on votes for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly elections. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Friday May 6, 2016. See PA story POLITICS Elections. Photo credit should read: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
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London elected a Muslim mayor on Friday, in a remarkable triumph over the racial and religious tensions that have bedevilled other European capitals.

The historic moment — Sadiq Khan is the first directly elected Muslim mayor of an important western city — is being scrutinised around the world, particularly in European countries struggling to integrate Muslim communities.

The win, which garnered more than 1.3m votes, reaffirms London’s multicultural image at a time of rising populist fervour in Europe and the US. Europe’s anti-immigration parties have made inroads in recent months, fuelled by rising public fears following the terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris by Isis.

In the US, the rightwing Drudge Report website greeted Mr Khan’s early lead at the ballots with the scare headline “First Muslim Mayor of Londonistan”. Mr Khan’s ascent has also made headlines across France and Germany, with Le Monde noting that he described his religion as “part of my identity”.

In a reflection of the international as well as city-wide nature of the job, Mr Khan was congratulated on his apparent victory by New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo.

Mr de Blasio tweeted: “Sending congratulations to London’s new Mayor and fellow affordable housing advocate, @SadiqKhan. Look forward to working together!”

Ms Hidalgo wrote: “Congratulations to @SadiqKhan, elected Mayor of London! Convinced that his humanism & his progressivism will benefit the Londoners!”

The son of a Pakistani bus driver and his seamstress wife, Mr Khan was one of eight children raised in public housing in south London. His Conservative rival, Zac Goldsmith, is an Eton-educated billionaire’s son who seemed drawn from the English ruling class of a previous era.

Mr Khan, a fast-talking affable politician with a facility for straddling ideological divides, takes the reins of a capital city where roughly one in eight residents identify as Muslims.

However notable his rise, Mr Khan’s new power will be far more modest than those of municipal leaders elsewhere. In the US, mayors in cities such as New York and Chicago command multibillion-dollar budgets and small armies of municipal workers.

By contrast, the London mayor, elected by voters only since 2000, has limited powers over police, transport and housing.

Throughout the recent campaign, Mr Khan made no secret of his Muslim faith. He does not drink and when he was joining the Privy Council, an honorary body which advises the Queen, he asked to be sworn in using a copy of the Koran rather than a Bible.

“Hey @ZacGoldsmith. There’s no need to keep pointing at me & shouting ‘he’s a Muslim’. I put it on my own leaflets,” he tweeted at his Conservative rival.

But he has also spoken of having multiple identities that coexist. “I am a Londoner, I am European, I am British, I am English, I am of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband,” he said on the campaign trail.

“We do not just tolerate each other in London; we respect each other,” he has also said.

Mr Khan sought to negate criticism that he had shown poor judgment by appearing in public with people who had expressed extremist views by saying he would be “the British Muslim who will take the fight to the extremists”.

Attempts to stop British children being radicalised was “not working”, he added, and he hoped he would have a better understanding of how to combat radicalisation because he was a moderate Muslim who knew the community from the inside.

He said he had received abuse and death threats from conservative and extremist Muslims after he voted in favour of gay marriage in parliament.

Even after being accused of employing Islamophobic tactics, Mr Goldsmith repeatedly pointed to occasions when Mr Khan had “shared a platform” with extremists, which he claimed gave them legitimacy.

Mr Khan and the Labour party dismissed this as a racist tactic designed to appeal to voters who harboured anti-Muslim prejudice.

The attempts appeared to backfire. Mr Khan’s lead in the polls apparently grew as the attacks intensified. A newspaper article written by Mr Goldsmith carried a picture of the mangled wreckage of a London bus blown up by Islamist terrorists in 2005.

Sunder Katwala, director of the British Future think-tank, which studies the integration of ethnic minorities, said the Tory candidate’s tactic had been “especially unlikely to have worked in London without strong evidence that the claims of extremist links were valid”.

He added: “Compared with Europe, in London you see more confidence about the integration of ethnic minorities, in politics, civic society and business. On the left and the right you see a growing number of ethnic minority politicians. In European cities you don’t tend to see it on the right.”

In the next decade Mr Katwala expected one of the main parties to elect a non-white leader.

Less than an hour after the polls closed, Andrew Boff, a prominent Conservative in London local government, said on television that Mr Goldsmith’s campaign “was effectively saying that people of conservative religious views are not to be trusted and you shouldn’t share a platform with them”.

Mr Boff said that view was “outrageous” and the campaign had “done real damage” and had “blown up” bridges the Conservative party had built with London’s Muslim communities.

Mr Khan recently observed that he was not the first Muslim to achieve high office in the UK, pointing to Sajid Javid, the Tory business secretary. “Typical. You wait for ages for a Pakistani bus driver’s son to come along, then two come along at once,” he joked.

Elsewhere in Europe, the Morocco-born mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb has become one of most popular politicians in the country — he has been tipped as a possible future prime minister — in a country of rising anti-Muslim sentiment.

Outside a south London mosque after Friday prayers last week, Ben Houari, 38, who moved to London from Belgium to “run away from racism”, said a Muslim would never be elected mayor in his former home. “In Belgium you’ll never ever become mayor if you’re someone with a different culture.”

Lord Hain, a former Labour cabinet minister, said: “In the dominant British city, probably the most important city in the world, to have a Muslim mayor is an important statement.”

Tulip Siddiq, Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn — who is also a Muslim — said Mr Khan prayed, fasted and had been on the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. “But when I look at him, I don’t think of him as ‘Muslim man’. I think Labour, Londoner, south London, ambitious,” she said.

“I think he is a good role model for lots of reasons. He is ethnic minority, didn’t go to Oxbridge, grew up in a council house, has working-class roots.”

Across Britain many councillors are Muslim — typically in the Labour party — and 13 MPs in the 650-seat House of Commons are Muslim, up from eight in the previous parliament.

The Commons figure — 2 per cent of the whole — is less than the proportion of Muslims in the UK, which is 4 per cent, or about 3m.

Letters in response to this article:

Rotterdam’s mayor beats Khan by seven years / From Roel Janssen

Calgary’s had a Muslim mayor since 2010 / From Michael Chorney

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