Two things prompted this article. A few weeks ago it emerged that London has experienced a rise in hate crime over the last year — Islamophobic, homophobic and anti-Semitic offences have all risen. Then Sadiq Khan, who's Muslim, won the nomination battle to be Labour's candidate for mayor. We posted this news to Facebook and were appalled at some of the resulting comments. We got in touch with Khan himself to see how he intends to tackle such opposition during his campaign, and what he'd do about it as mayor.
"The reality is that London is a very tolerant and fair city, one of the most liberal cities in the world," Khan says. "There are two ways of looking at it. The glass half full stance is that it's great the public has confidence to come forward and report crimes. That's a good thing. But it's very sad and upsetting on the other hand, because people are being assaulted, abused, mistreated because of the colour of their skin, their faith, their sexuality."
The usual narrative about London is that we're a fantastically mixed city, that we learn to get along because we rub shoulders with all creeds and cultures. And yet, Khan reminds us, "People come from all round the country and the world to London. There are people who come here from parts of the country that aren't ethnically diverse. Being here opens their eyes to how fantastically diverse London is and they have nothing to fear from people who are different."
He's trying to play his own part in breaking down barriers. "During the month of Ramadan, when I was fasting, on three occasions I opened my fast in a synagogue. Where else in the world would we have that? I also opened one fast in a Sikh gurdwara. I've also been meeting people in other places, like factories and bus garages. One of the ways to address people who pre-judge others is to meet them. I'm often meeting people who've never broken bread with a Muslim before, or employed Muslims before. And the great things is once they meet me, they realise some of the prejudices were ill founded."
During the month of Ramadan, when I was fasting, on three occasions I opened my fast in a synagogue. Where else in the world would we have that?
And yet, a poll by YouGov for LBC last month showed that 31% of Londoners would be uncomfortable electing a Muslim mayor — a finding the station believed had ramifications for Khan and Syed Kamall, standing for the Conservative nomination. It's not an argument Khan finds convincing. "Even LBC would now concede the way they asked the question was leading," he says. "In the 2014 elections, which I was in charge of in London, people were predicting that far right parties and UKIP would do very well. In London not only did Labour have the best results since literally I was in nappies, but also UKIP lost seats."
What else can be done to combat prejudices? "The media has a huge role to play," Khan says. "Too often, the people who are 'representing' the Islamic faith aren't representative, they're angry men with beards. And that's not what Islam is about. Also, the mayor in charge of policing in London, and I would make it quite clear that there would be zero tolerance of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and homophobia. The same applies to sexual offences. Too many women and girls in this city are the victims of sexual offences — it's a big issue for me because it happens on public transport, which is under the remit of the mayor, and I'd want to send a clear message from City Hall of zero tolerance."