Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
The election of Sadiq Khan as the mayor of London should serve as a lesson to those politicians who are under the wrong impression that they could make electoral gains by fanning anti-Muslim or anti-Islam sentiments.
Despite all dirty tricks from the opposing camp, Khan succeeded in emerging as the first Muslim mayor of one of the most important European capitals, which is famous for its cultural diversity. However, it was not the first time that certain elements launched an anti-Muslim campaign in an industrialized democratic country to make personal political gains.
The United States, the United Kingdom and Canada are known to be the most tolerant and liberal countries in the world and are famous for their democratic values. Generally, people running for any public office in these countries campaign about the importance of social equality and always try to woo voters from all segments of society.
In the past, hate speeches, racial or racist remarks were unheard of during election campaigns in those countries. But the situation has changed during the past year, as the candidates’ in these three countries now resort to all kinds of tricks to win election. Ironically, anti-Muslim campaigns proved to be the deciding factor in elections in two of those countries.
During last year’s election in Canada, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper simply ran on Islamophobia and stoked anti-Muslim sentiments thinking that he would win hearts and minds of the Canadians.
Canadians saw the charismatic young liberal politician, Justin Trudeau who used the exact opposite strategy. He embraced minorities and especially Canadian Muslims. As a matter of fact, former Prime Minister’s anti-Muslim rhetoric opened the eyes of the Muslims living in Canada and they started to realize the importance of taking part in the electoral process or in other words the power of ballot. Harper didn’t only lose, but he was humiliated. His injection of high doses of Islamophobia didn’t help him divert the Canadians’ attention from the importance of economy and economic issues. But, at the end of day, Canada wasn’t veering to the right and Harper lost because seeing their politicians’ exploitation of faith in the election campaign turned off even many non-Muslim Canadians.
In London there was another election but on a smaller scale. It was a run for office to be the new mayor of London. Usually the election to be the mayor of London is not covered by the international media but this time around it was different. One of the candidates was a British Muslim. It is true that Sadiq Aman Khan was born and raised in England but it is the first time that son of a working-class immigrant got elected to this office. Even though he was not new to British politics, his road to the office wasn’t easy. He was subjected to racist criticism from his opponents. His main opponent Zac Goldsmith used the same technique that Canada’s Harper used. He used anti-Muslim rhetoric. When it was time for the Londoners to make a decision, they chose Khan as their mayor and rejected Islamophobic rants of his opponents.
In addition to that Conservative leader of the Greater London assembly Andrew Boff criticized the way Goldsmith ran his campaign, which caused some damage to the party’s relation with the Muslim community.
Now, the world is waiting anxiously to see who is going to be the next American president. We all are aware of Donald Trump’s stance toward a host of issues particularly minorities. He went as far as proposing banning Muslims from entering the United States.
Trump has become notorious for using aggressive language and harsh tone during his election rallies. But saying something about another country, minorities or faith during election campaigns to win votes of the masses is one thing and dealing with it when in office is another issue. The US is a diverse and tolerant country with a population that comes from all corners of the universe. An American presidential candidate doesn’t need to use anti-Muslim language in his campaign or use any racial slurs.
Using Islamophobia to win election doesn’t work and it is losing momentum even among the right-wingers and conservatives. Anti-Muslim rhetoric in American presidential campaign is new and the American people know how to deal with it. They dealt with it in the case of Republican presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and they will deal with Trump and his likes as well.
Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. Using Islamophobia for Electoral Gains reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.