Zac Goldsmith’s misguided extremism attacks on Sadiq Khan

Zac Goldsmith's misguided extremism attacks on Sadiq Khan

The Controversial Campaign: Goldsmith vs Khan


As the dust settles on Sadiq Khan’s victory in London’s mayoral election, attention has turned to Zac Goldsmith’s campaign and his aggressive focus on his rival’s past encounters with Muslim hardliners. The controversy surrounding this campaign has sparked heated debate, with two opinion pieces in particular garnering significant attention. The first, titled “Forgive and forget Zac Goldsmith’s racist campaign? No chance,” published in The Guardian, has been shared over 25,000 times. In contrast, Toby Young’s article in The Spectator, “Zac Goldsmith has nothing to be ashamed of,” stands in defense of Goldsmith. While both articles make valid points, it is the argument put forth in the Guardian piece that resonates with me the most.

Elections are known for their rough-and-tumble nature. Candidates should expect their characters and suitability for office to be challenged. However, in the case of Goldsmith’s campaign, there are certain aspects that need to be examined. The themes on which Goldsmith so vehemently focused, concerning Khan’s alleged connections to Muslim extremists, are not irrelevant. With recent Islamist terror attacks in European capitals, these issues warrant serious consideration. Additionally, the Labour party has faced scrutiny over anti-Semitism, and there have been concerns about its tolerance of conservative practices among British Muslim supporters. It is also true that Khan has associations with certain reactionary Muslims who hold extremist views. Given his new role as mayor, this raises questions about his influence over London’s schools and the government’s anti-radicalization efforts, along with his oversight of the Metropolitan Police.

However, for Goldsmith’s campaign to be valid and responsible, it needed to meet three criteria. Firstly, it should not have suggested that Khan sympathized with extremism. Secondly, it needed to specify how Khan’s past encounters affected his suitability for office. Lastly, it needed to maintain an appropriate degree of prominence alongside other important campaign issues such as transport, housing, and policing. Unfortunately, Goldsmith’s campaign failed on all three fronts.

Goldsmith played up ambiguities, indirectly implying that Khan was an extremist, without explicitly saying so. This tactic blurred the lines between Khan’s support for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who leans far left, and his connections within the British Muslim community. These insinuations mirrored the character of the Trump campaign in the United States and the AfD in Germany, both of which questioned Muslims’ compatibility with Western democracies. Goldsmith should have been more aware of the potential consequences of such tactics.

Moreover, Goldsmith’s campaign failed to clearly articulate how Khan’s connections disqualified him from the position of mayor. The claims made against Khan fell into three categories. The first involved his background as a civil liberties lawyer and his association with Suliman Gani, a radical imam. However, disagreements over issues such as gay marriage hardly reveal Khan to be an extremist. The second category focused on Khan’s Muslim family background, such as having a sibling-in-law who flirted with conservative Islam. These connections cannot be equated to Khan’s personal beliefs or political stance. Lastly, Goldsmith’s campaign attempted to smear Khan by lumping together various allegations and instances of naivety or opportunism. Rather than differentiate between examples or provide additional categories, Goldsmith’s campaign conflated them into a broad narrative of “unanswered questions” and “extremist associations.”

In addition to the failings mentioned above, Goldsmith’s campaign placed disproportionate emphasis on these allegations, overshadowing other essential issues facing London. While the city contends with skyrocketing house prices and inadequate transport and policing, Goldsmith’s campaign seemed fixated on Khan’s relationship with his co-religionists. This singular focus demonstrated a lack of substance in addressing the concerns and needs of Londoners. Instead of offering concrete plans and solutions, Goldsmith’s campaign resorted to a garbled argument that blurred lines between Corbyn’s economic leftism, Labour’s anti-Semitism problem, and Khan’s background, faith, and personal traits. The campaign even featured a photo of the bus blown up in the 7/7 terror attacks in London, which only added to the reckless nature of the messaging.

It is important to remember that politicians, like all human beings, possess flaws and inconsistencies. They often seek approval and may attempt to appeal to audiences they would normally condemn. While it is not ideal, this is the reality of politics. Many politicians have backgrounds or affiliations that might hinder their understanding of certain issues or segments of society. Goldsmith himself has connections to individuals who would not typically be seen as suitable for setting the agenda in City Hall. His father was a hardline Eurosceptic linked to corporate raiding, and his former brother-in-law, Imran Khan, has associations with Islamism through his political career in Pakistan. These connections are often cited as evidence of Goldsmith being an independent-minded MP.

Comparing Khan’s links to Muslim radicals directly to Goldsmith’s affiliations with individuals in different realms may not be entirely fair. However, given the issues facing British Islam, it becomes crucial to incorporate its representatives into the country’s political landscape. To combat the self-exclusion and radicalization of certain segments of the Muslim community, Britain needs prominent Muslims who can truly understand and address these concerns. The establishment should support a new generation of moderate Muslim leaders, including liberal and telegenic imams, in order to make progress in these areas. Dismissing Khan solely based on his connections defeats the purpose of engaging with and tackling the challenges within British Islam.

In conclusion, Goldsmith’s campaign failed to adequately meet the requirements of a valid and responsible campaign. His insinuations without direct accusations, lack of clarity on how Khan’s connections affected his suitability, and the disproportionate emphasis on these allegations tarnished his campaign. While politicians may have flaws and affiliations outside the mainstream, it is important to consider their potential to represent and address the concerns of all citizens. London’s new mayor may not fit the mold some expected, but that may be precisely what the city needs in order to progress and embrace the diverse communities within it.