(AP) – London’s newly elected Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, attended an annual memorial to the millions of Jews slain in the Holocaust as his first official act in office on Sunday.
Khan made his appearance at the north London ceremony following a racially charged election campaign during which Conservative Party opponents sought to portray him as an apologist for Islamic extremism and to highlight cases of alleged anti-Semitism within the ranks of Khan’s Labour Party.
The event inside a rugby stadium brought together thousands from London’s Jewish community, including more than 150 Holocaust survivors and a combined choir from five Jewish elementary schools.
Sadiq Khan has a simple, striking message for Londoners: He won’t be merely a Muslim mayor, but a leader for all.
Khan celebrated his landslide election victory Saturday in a multi-denominational ceremony at an Anglican cathedral accompanied by London’s police chief, Christian and Jewish leaders, and stars of stage and screen.
They gave Khan a standing ovation as he pledged to be an approachable Everyman for his city of 8.2 million — including more than a million residents who, like him, happen to be Muslim.
“I’m determined to lead the most transparent, engaged and accessible administration London has ever seen, and to represent every single community and every single part of our city as a mayor for Londoners,” said Khan, the son of Pakistani-born immigrants who became a civil rights lawyer and, in 2005, London’s first Muslim member of Parliament.
“So I wanted to do the signing-in ceremony here, in the very heart of our city, surrounded by Londoners of all backgrounds,” he said in Southwark Cathedral, a few miles north of the state housing project where he grew up.
Khan’s Labour Party candidacy to lead London triumphed in the face of a Conservative campaign seeking to tar him as sympathetic to Islamic extremists. Supporters said Khan’s own message — that a victory for him would show the world how tolerant and open Britain was — carried far more power.
“To have a Muslim mayor seems preferable to me to any alternative regardless of the politics,” said actor Sir Ian McKellen, who greeted Khan at the cathedral gates. “I hope it’s an image that will go round the world as representing a new sort of England that’s at peace with itself regardless of race and so on. That’s the beauty of it.”
Leading Muslim activists in the Conservative Party expressed shame and anger over their own candidate Zac Goldsmith’s attacks on Khan, saying they had recklessly stoked racism and intolerance. The final round of ballot confirming confirmed early Saturday that Khan received 57 percent of votes, Goldsmith 43 percent.
Many criticized Goldsmith’s final published appeal in a right-wing Sunday newspaper warning that London stood “on the brink of a catastrophe” if it elected Khan. The article claimed that Khan and Labour considered terrorists their friends and would handicap police efforts to prevent another attack on London, 11 years after 52 Londoners died in suicide blasts on three subway trains and a bus committed by British-born Muslims. Goldsmith’s appeal was accompanied by a picture of the bomb-ravaged bus.
Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said he had been disgusted by the Goldsmith campaign tactics.
“We were meant to understand that Khan kept bad company with extremist Muslims and could not be trusted with the safety of London. On top of that, leaflets were targeted specifically at London Hindus and Sikhs … seeking to divide Londoners along religious and ethnic lines,” Amin wrote on a Conservative blog. He said the Conservative campaign sought to frighten non-Muslim voters “about Khan, the alleged Muslim extremist.”
Amin said he voted for Goldsmith because he opposes Labour policies, but could not stomach campaigning actively for him — and instead took pride in seeing Londoners vote so strongly for a fellow Muslim of Pakistani background.
Leading Conservatives defended their campaign tactics, even as they expressed surprise at losing a post locked down for the past eight years by the eccentrically popular Conservative, Boris Johnson.
Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who previously accused Khan of sharing a platform with a London imam sympathetic to the Islamic State extremist group, repeated those since-discredited claims Saturday and insisted such charges represented “the rough and tumble of politics.”