Global press reaction to Sadiq Khan a mix of curiosity and ignorance
In London, the religion of the Labour candidate for the city’s mayor became an issue only when his Conservative opponent made it one, by attempting to link his rival to Islamist extremism in a campaign criticised as divisive and racist.
Abroad, however, it seems the faith and family background of Sadiq Khan is seen through a somewhat different prism: in much foreign media coverage of the elections, it was more important than his politics. In France, the Netherlands, Germany and Swiss, headlines focused on the Muslim identity of the new mayor.
“Sadiq Khan likely to become the first Muslim mayor of London,” was the headline in France’s leading left leaning news weekly L’Obs. The country’s largest commercial broadcaster, TF1, went for: “Sadiq Khan: Muslim, immigrant’s son, self-made man – and future mayor”? Khan’s religion was also prominent in media coverage of the election in the Netherlands, where Ahmed Aboutaleb has been the Muslim mayor of the country’s second largest city, Rotterdam, since 2009.
Different perceptions of Islam and integration were compounded in some countries by a wildly different continental view of Pakistan. “Is Khan’s Pakistani origin not an obstacle?” asked a journalist on the Swiss radio station RTS. “Is Pakistan not associated with fundamentalism and terror?” The station’s interviewee replied that in a city in which almost 40% of residents were born outside the UK, and whose Muslim population makes up 12% of the total (and more than 30% in some boroughs), the popular image of Pakistan was more usually to do with corner shops and academic excellence.
But perhaps the most striking example of how differently much of the world sees London – and the importance of religion – from the way the city plainly sees itself came from the US, where Donald Trump caused uproar with a call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.
"Il devient absolument urgent de mettre un terme à cette injustice. Il y a un manque de connaissances et de recherches. Il faut donc promouvoir le recueil de témoignages, mais aussi construire des mémoriaux, organiser des expositions..." - @BenjaminAbtan