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London's new mayor isn't a 'moderate' Muslim. He's just an ordinary one.

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Image: Facebook/Sadiq Khan

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The electoral victory of Sadiq Khan as mayor of a city as great (and in their eyes Islamophobic) as London was a slap in the face to Islamic State followers. 

Like the time Chancellor Angela Merkel declared Germany would welcome one million Syrian refugees, Islamists are at risk of losing credibility from their followers. 

The success of these extremists thrives, after all, on disproportionate military reprisals, sectarian discord and deeply engrained Islamophobia in Western societies. So the mere thought of a Muslim (however much those individuals may be considered as heretics by IS) winning over the most hearts and minds of a non-Muslim population uncomfortably rattles their narrative.

It's worth recalling that a big part of ISIS's recruitment strategy is posting powerful statements online dictating that killing enemies of Islam -- meaning the United States and its allies -- is a religious duty for every Muslim. Often, they cite U.S. military action in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel as evidence of America's "war" with Islam. They also play on the insecurities of young recruits by telling them that Muslims in the West would never be accepted into mainstream society. 

And given the electoral rise of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump -- and of far-right parties coming to power across Europe -- it's not impossible to see how a vulnerable, disaffected youth could fall into that warped mindset.

But while anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. has never been louder, so too have the voices of ordinary Muslims -- though not necessarily in the way one might expect. Many Canadians will remember the anger, and backlash that Muslims, South Asians -- literally anyone who even remotely resembled a Muslim or Arab -- faced from their own friends or colleagues after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America. A deep climate of mistrust ensued, which for some only gets worse with every new terror attack on Western soil. This was this climate that Sadiq Khan first entered the political scene in Britain as an elected MP for Tooting in East London in 2005.

As a graduate student in London the year four British-born Muslims bombed the London Underground, I witnessed dozens of pundits in British news outlets all wanting to know the same thing: Where are all the so-called "moderate" Muslims? Why aren't all the so-called peace-loving Muslims living in London condemning these barbaric attacks? 

I also heard voices like Sadiq Khan and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (then the vice chair of the Conservative Party) fiercely condemn the attacks and disassociate them with the actual tenets of the faith, to no avail.  As much as people demanded answers from the Muslim community -- and Muslims responded in the same unequivocal voice of condemnation every time -- it made no difference. The terrorists still seemed to be louder.

What's changed, 11 years on? Some would argue nothing. Terrorists continue to slaughter innocents and billionaire conservative politicians continue to incriminate an entire global community for the abhorrent actions of a few. What has changed in the most profound sense is that Muslims are no longer seen (or at least solely) as a fifth column.

The voice of the ordinary, "moderate" Muslim is heard more than ever -- not as spokespeople who can denounce the ways terrorists justify their acts through the Quran -- but as engaged citizens and leaders paving the way forward in a world that we all want to become more inclusive and tolerant.

Last year, we saw Muslims in Canada unite strategically for the first time in a non-partisan, grassroots organization to achieve a single goal: Increase the participation of Canadian Muslims within the democratic process.

This, along with the opposition's crude anti-Muslim strategy not unlike Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan's Conservative Party competitor, was a key factor in bringing Justin Trudeau's pro-immigration party to power. We've also seen Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada an as Afghan refugee, sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions in Trudeau's cabinet, and Ginella Massa, a hijab-clad journalist, become an on-camera reporter for Toronto news network CityTV.

Britons, too, have seen a rise in British Muslims taking centre stage, from national baking contests to professional sports. From Nadiya Hussain, winner of the popular television program The Great British Bake-Off to Somali-born and London-raised Mo Farah winner of two Olympic Gold medals in 2013, it was exhilarating to see Muslims dominate the headlines for stories other than suicide attacks or beheadings. 

In the U.S., we saw videos of Dalia Mogahed, director of research at a D.C. social policy institute, go viral after she smoothly took on contentious questions around hijab and radicalization on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah -- using U.S. polling figures as evidence that there was no corroboration between the two. And then there's Ibtihaj Muhammad, the professional fencer who recently became the first U.S. athlete to complete in the Olympics as a visible Muslim.

None of these people ever condemned the abhorrent actions of the so-called Islamic State during their moments of fame, simply because it wasn't in their remit. They are all skilled professionals in their own right; recognized as Muslims, but celebrated for their extraordinary skills that contribute to mainstream society.

Which is the way it should be. Muslims are no different from anyone else, and for that reason, their successes should be commended no more, nor less than anyone else's. Perhaps the next step in fostering genuine equity in society is for news outlets to drop the "Muslim" descriptor all together.

Would it have made headlines across the world if a Jewish or Hindu mayor had won the London mayoral race, or The Great British Bake-Off? As Canadian journalist Muhammad Lila put it after Sadiq won the mayoral race: "Wouldn't it be nice if one day Muslims could just do stuff, without pointing out their religion?"

This piece originally appeared on New Canadian Media.

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Image: Facebook/Sadiq Khan

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