“I feel so
proud of my city,” my interlocutor says, referring to the election of the first
Muslim, Sadiq Khan, as Mayor of London. She is Catholic, though she identifies
first and foremost as British. But, like many other Londoners, she was inspired
by Khan’s message of hope over fear.
election contrasts sharply with dynamics that seem to be at work elsewhere in
the West. European populations – in Hungary and Poland and with a close call in
Austria – are falling prey to increasingly radical, openly xenophobic populism.
In the United States, Donald Trump’s bombastic bigotry has won him the
Republican nomination for the presidency.
certainly had the option of intolerance. They could have voted for the
Conservative candidate, Zac Goldsmith, who persistently accused Khan of having
ties with “radical Muslims figures.”
expectation, without reason or evidence, that any Muslim person is linked to
extremism is undeniably racist. Leveling such accusations against a Muslim
running for public office has nothing to do with protecting the public
interest. The purpose of such tactics is to reinforce the notion that no Muslim
can be trusted to hold an important leadership position.
attempt to justify this view by pointing out that the Koran makes no distinction
between “what belongs to God and what belongs to Caesar.” But that implies that
all Muslims behave exclusively according to the tenets of the Koran, without
regard for secular law. That is simply not true.
cases, there are questions about how Islam’s adherents, including some of its
most visible representatives, approach the subject of Islam’s role in the West.
The scholar Tariq Ramadan, for example, has spoken of the rise of a “European
Islam,” which anchors Islamic principles to the cultural reality of Western
Europe. I fully support this notion, as long as this new Islam shares without
reservation the values, beliefs, and memories of Europeans (including
recognition of Israel’s right to exist). Unfortunately, when I expressed this
to Ramadan in a debate years ago, he remained silent.
challenges that may arise when incorporating Islam into Europe’s
already-diverse societies do not, in any sense, mean that Muslims cannot be
trusted to lead well. Yet some, particularly in France, are now warning that
Khan’s election is the first step toward a not-too-distant future in which
Muslims impose Islamic law on European countries, a scenario made vivid by
Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel, Submission. (The book, however, can be
interpreted less as a prediction of a Muslim takeover than as a criticism of
French political correctness, which seems to adhere to the mantra, “Anyone but
the National Front.”)
implications of Khan’s election are likely to contradict the bigots and fear
mongers. Indeed, beyond acting as a slap in the face to Europe’s populist
forces, Khan’s victory will deal a blow to the “Islamic State” (ISIS), which
for the purpose of recruitment depends on young European Muslims’ feelings of
humiliation, marginalization, and failure.
Muslim as Mayor of London – a great Western city, which has suffered brutal
terrorist attacks – it will be that much harder for jihadists to convince
potential recruits in the West that their governments and societies are seeking
to repress them. If young Muslims can succeed in the West, why would they give
up their lives for ISIS, which is already losing ground in Iraq and Syria?
Muslim success stories like Khan’s remain too few and far between. But there is
much to be gained from recognizing, publicizing, and multiplying them. This
would probably be easier to achieve in Britain than in France, which remains
fixated on laïcité (the absolute separation of church and state that is at the
core of French republican identity).
by rejecting Islamophobia and reiterating their belief in the values of an open
society, Londoners have dealt a blow to Islamists. But it would be dangerous to
overestimate the implications of Khan’s election.
thing, London is hardly representative of the entire United Kingdom, much less
the rest of Europe or the West as a whole. The city is more cosmopolitan than
New York, as culturally dynamic as Berlin, and much more self-confident than
Paris. It is exceptional in its energy and openness. If only Londoners were to
vote in the June 23 referendum, they would most likely choose to remain in the
EU, despite the Union’s flaws.
another, London’s openness and confidence is dependent, at least partly, on
economic growth and prosperity. After all, it is far easier to share a large
and growing pie. The “Polish plumber” who contributed so clearly to the
beautification of London starting in the early 1990s was an economic asset,
never a threat, and at least indirectly paved the way for workers from other
countries and cultures.
the openness of Londoners – especially at a moment when so many of their
Western counterparts are being tempted by bigotry – is worthy of celebration.
Rather than answering fear with more fear, they elected the better candidate,
regardless of religion. That is how it should be.
Dominique Moisi, a professor at L'Institut
d’études politiques de Paris (Sciences Po), is Senior Adviser at the French
Institute for International Affairs (IFRI) and a visiting professor at King’s
College London. He is the author of La Géopolitique des Séries ou le triomphe
de la peur.