The New Arab Logo

Breaking News
On the triumph of multicultural democracy in London's elections Open in fullscreen

Azmi Bishara

On the triumph of multicultural democracy in London's elections

The election of Muslim Sadiq Khan could mark a new phase in Western democracy [AFP]

Date of publication: 7 May, 2016

Share this page:
  • 0

  • twitter
Comment: The election of London's first Muslim mayor is major progress for Western democracy, argues Dr. Azmi Bishara, but the Arab world is light years away from such 'democratic citizenship'
Two men vied for the mayorship of the capital of the world's former foremost empire, now retreated into the British Isles where the sun sets more often than it rises; neither man was a Protestant or a Catholic.

The electoral battle was fought by just two candidates, one a Jew and the other a Muslim. But we don't know how much this label meant for either man, beyond their need for mobilising some votes.

Before someone hastens to say a Muslim Labourite's win is not a win for Islam and Muslims, just like a Jewish Tory's defeat is not a defeat for Israel and Zionism, we need to say this: what happened, regardless of the identity of the winner, was a victory for democracy.

Such an achievement against religious and ethnic obstacles has finally become possible centuries after the emergence of modest forms of democracy, where participation was initially limited to male taxpayers, that is, landowners. 

We don't know yet whether this was a victory for multiculturalism as Britain currently knows it, as it is still early to gauge reactions and responses. 
We don't know yet whether this was a victory for multiculturalism as Britain currently knows it, as it is still early to gauge reactions and responses
Indeed, consider for example the proudly brash real estate tycoon Donald Trump. Trump's movement has raised the voice on behalf of the 'White Man' in the United States, protesting the decline of the whites' dominance amid the rise of the power of women and other cultures and ethnicities, including African Americans and Hispanics.

In Europe, there have been a similar kind of backlash that must not be scoffed at, from France and Germany to Austria, the Netherlands and elsewhere.

Still, London's new mayor is Muslim. This is the start of a new dynamic in Europe, whereby Western democracy is reconfigured anew by making an additional step towards separating public institutions from religious, ethnic and other identities.

After the inevitable reaction to this step, a new dialectic of action and reaction will emerge, allowing this democracy to sustain itself.
This is the start of a new dynamic in Europe, whereby Western democracy is reconfigured anew
I do not know much about the candidates' political attitudes, but they belong to parties whose attitudes are known. The Muslim candidate is a member of a leftist democratic wing in the Labour Party, and importantly, he is closer to people's social demands than his Conservative rival.

But no doubt, he must have had a bare minimum amount of opportunism that allowed him to climb up the ranks of a major party like Labour.

I do not know much either about his accommodation of the Zionist lobby, perhaps in order to ward off accusations of anti-Semitism against him and his party.

I have no doubt that the political attitudes of former London mayor Ken Livingstone were ahead of the declared positions of the candidates in the most recent election, even though he was neither Jewish nor Muslim.

I still remember a major rally in London against the war in Iraq. I had addressed the rally after Livingstone's speech in the same protest, in the era of the dreadful Tony Blair, who actually tried to thwart his party's current candidate.

Livingstone could not influence the decision to go to war, and the current London mayor will not influence Britain's positions on Palestine likewise.

However, what happened remains a major feat for immigrants in Europe, and a globally significant model in the context of keeping public institutions religiously and ethnically neutral.
What happened remains a major feat for immigrants in Europe, and a globally significant model
This is what may be termed "democratic citizenship": This is what we must see as a real potential in these elections, and not just a fantasy.

We will not see this happen here and now, in the Orient, however, where not only cities but even refugee camps are being bombed. The Orient where the politicisation of identity has become so charged and full of hatred that genocide does not induce among the fanatics a single iota of regret or disgust.

We see it in London, whose centre attracts millions of people, despite being no bigger than three square kilometres.

In London, the world's wealthiest are concentrated, regardless of the legality or illegality of their fortunes, raising real estate prices there to the point it has become off-limits for most of its denizens, regardless of their cultural and religious backgrounds.

Many Arab and Muslim politicians and intellectuals also frequent London.

In their home countries, the son of an immigrant cannot dream of even getting a passport, let alone be elected for public office. And things would be even worse if this person did not belong to the faith of the majority.

Azmi Bishara is a Palestinian intellectual, academic and writer.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

The New ArabComments

Most Popular

Most Popular

    Read More