Londoners have elected Labour candidate Sadiq Khan as their new mayor. This election would not normally be of international importance because, after all, it was a local election. However, the press all over the world felt the urge to cover this story and, as a result, we are now quite well informed about London's problems as a city, its local politics and Londoners' expectations.
This local election turned into a global event only because of the identity of the winner, who is Muslim.
The United Kingdom is a pluralist democracy – there is no doubt about that. But even there, electing a Muslim for such an important job made headlines. So imagine the situation in the rest of the world.
No matter what his message or his projects for the city are, the entire world was interested only with his Muslim identity and his origin. The debate is not on the fact that the U.K.'s political system allows someone like him to be candidate, as there has never been a law against that. The point was to see whether or not the people of London, the ordinary folk, would vote for a Muslim. According to a study carried out before election day, 55 percent of Londoners said that they do not care at all about the religious affiliation of the candidates. Despite that, 31 percent of them – and this is not a negligible percentage –said they would not want a Muslim governing their city.
It is not easy to understand why the religious identity of a candidate would bother some people. In a local election, people should care more about what the candidates propose to make citizens' lives easier, what their projects are to transform the city and so on. As long as the city's administration is transparent, pluralist, inclusive and accountable, whether or not the mayor practices a religion, and if he does, which one, should not be a matter of concern.
Khan's life seems to be a success story, and he is definitely not from the British political elite. His family has modest origins, and he has always been on the left of the political spectrum. He says he does not drink alcohol because he is Muslim, but, for example, he is not against same-sex marriage, saying everyone is entitled to live the life he or she chooses. He is, what people call, a moderate Muslim. The Conservative candidate who ran against him, however, had upper-class origins, is quite radical and accused from time to time of racism. So it seems Khan's moderate stance on socio-political issues had gained him enough votes.
Does someone like him have a similar chance in Continental Europe? The answer is not easy to give, and that includes Turkey as well. It is hard to imagine a non-Muslim candidate being elected mayor of a big city in Turkey as most people still have a mentality that can be summed up by phrases like, "he is Jewish, BUT he pays his taxes," "She is Armenian, but she is a good person."
It seems that Khan's promises persuaded many Londoners that he is capable to carry their city into the next decade. They most likely have some grievances about their city, as people do in those kinds of global cities.
On a side note, his life story reminds everyone that British Muslims of Pakistani and Indian origin, despite their long past in the country, are still considered as part of the modest classes of society.
Real pluralism is to have pluralism within every social segment. It is not to have, for example, people of different origins and faiths only living side by side, but in real communion. Let's hope for all societies that the future will be more pluralistic.