Hope Over Fear: In Defence of Sadiq Khan, the New Mayor of London

Hope Over Fear: In Defence of Sadiq Khan, the New Mayor of London
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After Zac Goldsmith became the Conservative party candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral election, it seemed to me as a London-based young professional of Polish-Jewish and Tanzanian descent born in communist Poland it would be an exciting time to live in England’s capital city. In particular, Goldsmith’s Jewish heritage presented him with an opportunity to contribute to the rich and diverse cultural background of London.

Since I was born and raised in the city of Four Cultures—built by Poles, Jews, Germans, and Russians—I saw a parallel between Goldsmith and Jerzy Kropiwnicki, who served two terms as president of Łódź from 2002 until 2010 and managed to secure the International Film Festival of the Art of Cinematography (Camerimage - the biggest festival dedicated to cinematography), as well as co-organised the 60th Anniversary of the Liquidation of the Łódź Ghetto (the second-largest ghetto in all of German-occupied Europe). 

Indeed, Kropiwnicki was a good example how a “green conservative” politician of Jewish heritage can change a city for better. However, it soon became apparent to me that this is not the case when it comes to his London conservative counterpart, who became active in the Conservative Party’s smear campaign against Sadiq Khan by accusing him of sharing a platform with extremists on the grounds of association simply because Khan is a Muslim.

Regardless of the fact that Goldsmith eventually lost to a “son of a Pakistani bus driver,” Islamophobia is still alive and well. It can be seen clearly in those publically associating Khan’s victory with the fulfilment of a prophecy set in the Melanie Phillips book titled “Londonistan.” Decades ago, Samuel Huntington warned that “in Western Europe, anti-Semitism directed against Arabs has largely replaced Anti-Semitism against Jews” (though I would argue it relates to Muslims in general, not exclusively Arabs), which helps put this complicated issue in perspective.

Anti-Semitism arose from the need to enable non-Jews to either appreciate or stabilize their own social identity. After Germany’s defeat in World War I and its post-war national identity crisis, this need bred one of the greatest atrocities in human history, stigmatising “the Jews” as enemies of the state and nation.  

This exploration of identity had a profound effect on the Holocaust survivor Henri Tajfel, who preserved an acute sensibility for strategies of exclusion and acts of discrimination after he was taken as a prisoner-of-war by the Germans.

Tajfel, a Polish Jew, went on to became one of the best known social psychologists in the world. Together with his student John Turner, he developed Social Identity Theory (SIT), which suggests that prejudice and discrimination comes from the fact of existing two groups. According to the scientists, our in-group, which is the group we belong to, gives us our self-esteem and identity. To enhance our self-esteem we tend to see those in other groups (the out-groups) negatively. Quite simply, we are prejudiced against them. 

Furthermore, it is crucial to mention that exaggeration is indispensable feature of prejudice. “Over-accentuation,” as it is interchangeably named by Tajfel, is a stereotypical caricature which forms an image of the polemic other. The caricature “based on the stylistic device of exaggeration and radical reduction of features,” which can be seen in “abstract art, comedy, satire, and political propaganda.”

SIT proves each of us has several “selves” according to the different groups we belong to. Our social identity comes from belonging to groups, which means we categorise ourselves as being a member of an in-group. Nonetheless, categorizing people, in the absence of any other differences or conflict between the two groups, leads to in-group favouritism and the out-group bias. 

What is strengthened in times of intergroup confrontations is the bond of belonging and the shared (emotional and in most cases irrational) interpretation of the relation between in-group and out-group. The phenomenon explained by the French sociologist Emil Durkheim, whose theory of anomie tells that “through the dissolution of old communal structures, modern societies are increasingly becoming characterised by a lack of binding norms and disorganisation, unsettling individuals, who then respond by strengthening their emotional ties to the national collective.”

This finding is of great importance as it shows that there is a psychological component to prejudice—beyond any economic, political, or historical factors—that if promoted by those in power or supported by masses, can indeed shape today’s fiction into tomorrow’s grim reality.

It is here I would like to recall Pope Saint John Paul II visit to Morocco, which took place in August 19, 1985. In an address to young Muslims, His Holiness focused entirely on God and spiritual values, which have their basis in our Creator:

“I believe that we, Christians and Muslims, must recognize with joy the religious values that we have in common, and give thanks to God for them. Both of us believe in one God the only God, who is all Justice and all Mercy; we believe in the importance of prayer, of fasting, of almsgiving, of repentance and of pardon; we believe that God will be a merciful judge to us at the end of time, and we hope that after the resurrection he will be satisfied with us and we know that we will be satisfied with him.”

Knowing turbulent past of this two Abrahamic relatives in faith, the Pope didn’t forget mentioning the main reason of their differences, deeply rooted in the philosophical content of Neoplatonism, mainly the concept of hypostasis:

 “Loyalty demands also that we should recognize and respect our differences. Obviously the most fundamental is the view that we hold on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth … [as] Christians recognize him and proclaim him Lord and Saviour. Those are important differences, which we can accept with humility and respect, in mutual tolerance; there is a mystery there on which, I am certain, God will one day enlighten us.”

John Paul II demonstrated unshakable testimony of His commitment to the truths of God and the Catholic Church, which published the Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions (“Nostra Aetate”) of the Second Vatican Council, promulgated on 28 October 1965 by Pope Paul VI.

This document urged both Muslims and Christians to “forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.” It also left no space for any “theory or practice that leads to discrimination between man and man or people and people.” According to the Declaration, “the Church reproves, as foreign to the mind of Christ, any discrimination against men or harassment of them because of their race, color, condition of life, or religion. On the contrary, following in the footsteps of the holy Apostles Peter and Paul, this sacred synod ardently implores the Christian faithful to ‘maintain good fellowship among the nations’ (1 Peter 2:12), and, if possible, to live for their part in peace with all men, so that they may truly be sons of the Father who is in heaven.”

It shouldn’t then come as a surprise that the Polish successor of Peter—the Apostle chosen by Jesus to strengthen his brothers in the faith—promulgated in 1992 the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which clearly says that “the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

What’s more, John Paul II showed through His own actions that He wholeheartedly believed in His religious mission, by becoming the first Catholic pope to set foot in a mosque. During His travels to Syria in 2001, the Pope visited the Umayyed Mosque in Damascus where He was calling for mutual forgiveness by Christians and Muslims: “It is my ardent hope that Muslim and Christian religious leaders and teachers will present our two great religious communities as communities in respectful dialogue, never more as communities in conflict,” the Pope said. “It is crucial for the young to be taught the ways of respect and understanding, so that they will not be led to misuse religion itself to promote or justify hatred and violence.”

Keeping in mind the words of the former Catholic Herald editor Cristina Odone, who argued that Saint Pope John II’s wish was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great religious armada,” the following message, expressed by His Holiness in Morocco, makes absolute sense to me:

“Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is today more necessary than ever. It flows from our fidelity to God and supposes that we know how to recognize God by faith, and to witness to him by word and deed in a world ever more secularized and at times even atheistic.”

Therefore, as a Polish person raised in a household where Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam live harmoniously with each other, I hope that Sadiq Khan will take the Pope’s words to his heart and prove that the opponents of his election—including Donald Trump in the US—are wrong. Considering myself a “John Paul II conservative,” I do not believe following in Cain’s footsteps in our attempt to build “a world where God may have first place in order to aid and to save mankind,” is the right thing to do for any of us—especially in multifaith cities and nations.

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