Originally published under the title, "Londoners 'Uncomfortable' with Muslim Mayor, but Don't Blame Xenophobia, Blame Muslim Politicians."
Labour MP Sadiq Khan has declared his candidacy for mayor of London.
One-third of Londoners are said to be "uncomfortable" with the idea of a Muslim mayor, according to a new YouGov poll for LBC radio. What seems to have especially excited some is the revelation that 73 percent of UK Independence Party (UKIP) voters in London feel the same way. But can they really be blamed?
The reason some of the people are "uncomfortable" is undoubtedly going to be a level of xenophobia. But the majority, I believe, are subconsciously internalising the public performances of Muslim politicians in the United Kingdom and are rightly concerned by them.
Critics might point to the fact that UKIPers, across the board according to the poll, are less "progressive," leading the field in discomfort for the idea of a female mayor (12 percent), a homosexual mayor (26 percent) and an ethnic minority mayor (41 percent). Well, yes, UKIP is a party of traditionalists and conservatives first and libertarians second. I don't think anyone should try to hide from that or try to explain it away. But the discomfort about a Muslim mayor (73 percent) requires some deeper thought.
Sayeeda Hussain Warsi (left) resigned from Prime Minister David Cameron's cabinet, calling his Israel policy "morally indefensible." Former Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman (center) fell due to corruption charges. MEP Amjad Bashir (right) was kicked out of UKIP for "grave" financial irregularities.
Look at the shining examples we have of high profile Muslim politicians in the United Kingdom: Baroness Warsi, former Mayor Lutfur Rahman, ex-UKIPer Amjad Bashir, and of course one of the people tipped to challenge for the Labour candidacy, Labour MP Sadiq Khan.
"But wait! What about Syed Kamall? Sajid Javid? Khalid Mahmood? Rehman Chishti?" I hear you ask.
By and large, Muslim politicians in the UK tend to be far more ... divisive, to be polite. There are several camps. Some, like Lutfur Rahman and Baroness Warsi, have Islamist links. Some have questionable backgrounds, such as the defence of Louis Farrakhan or Guantanamo Bay detainees (Sadiq Khan), and one let UKIP down in a big way, while being investigated for improper behaviour (Amjad Bashir).
Humza Yousaf (left), a member of the Scottish parliament, was previously media spokesman for a radical Islamist charity. Labour MPs Shabana Mahmood (center) and Yasmin Qureshi (right) are more concerned with boycotting Israel than serving their constituents.
Others engage in sectarian politics at a whim. George Galloway, though he doesn't claim to be a Muslim (others claim he converted), divided and conquered in Bradford West and was, as a result, turfed out. Politicians like Ali, Mahmood, and Qureshi are united by their demonisation of Israel and tolerance of extremism.
And Tory-elected officials like Kamall, Javid, and Chishti are precisely why Conservative voters in London are more comfortable (39 percent against) with a Muslim mayor. One of their leading candidates is a practicing Muslim – they'd have to be.
Perhaps the argument can be made that UKIP voters are not xenophobic or anti-Muslim – although one might argue they are more likely to be anti-Islam, and that's a discussion for another time – but rather that they have simply been paying attention.
When you couple the backgrounds of a lot of leading Muslim politicians in Britain with the more objective, black-and-white worldview that UKIP voters have, they are naturally predetermined to be more sceptical.
You might argue that UKIP voters shouldn't see things in such a clear-cut way and shouldn't attribute the failings of one Muslim politician to others. There are evident trends, similarities, and commonalities, but that contention would be a decent compromise approach.
Unfortunately, while there are a handful of decent Muslim politicians in Britain, I can't help but think that the highest-profile ones have let people with my name and background down. It's no different than UKIPers being sceptical of a Conservative mayor, or Labour being sceptical of a Tory one.
Maybe I should run for London mayor on a UKIP ticket? Or maybe not.
Raheem Kassam is a fellow at the Middle East Forum and editor-in-chief of Breitbart London