Claiming Sadiq

I find it in bad taste to use the elections of another country to further one’s own political blame game at home

Mohammad Zia Adnan May 10, 2016
The writer is based in Princeton, New Jersey. He tweets @mziaadnan

Had Sadiq Khan’s family remained in Pakistan during the late 1960s, it is likely that the new mayor of London wouldn’t have amounted to much. I do not write that because I have little faith in Khan’s commendable ability to overcome the odds stacked against him in a political system that has historically favoured rich white men; I write it because the political system in his family’s native Pakistan is broken.

These past few weeks, there has been much conversation within Pakistan about the mayoral elections in London. When Khan was finally declared winner of the election on May 6 at City Hall, thousands upon thousands of Pakistanis, Muslims and people of colour, at home and abroad, took to congratulating the new mayor. To immigrants and minorities all over the world, his victory is a powerful symbol — in a Europe dealing with the festering wounds of religious extremism and Islamophobia, the election of a Muslim mayor is nothing short of miraculous. To Pakistanis at home, Khan’s mayoral victory is a moment of national pride.

“Pakistani bus driver’s son becomes Mayor of London” read the headlines. The prime minister’s daughter proudly retweeted London-based journalist Murtaza Ali Shah, who wrote, “PML-N supporters in London campaigned for Sadiq Khan with vigour after Imran Khan endorsed Zac Goldsmith.”

I hate to digress, but I personally find it in bad taste to use the elections of another country to further one’s own political blame game at home. I am sure the PML-N constituents in rural Punjab appreciate which candidate their party endorsed in an election taking place 4,000 miles away when there are still 4,000 unresolved grievances in their constituency falling on the deaf ears of their elected representatives.

What has shocked me most these past few days though are the jingoistic felicitations that Pakistanis in Pakistan have showered upon Khan. Many of these read as claims to his Pakistani identity, as though his mayoral victory is a victory for Pakistan itself. While I do not intend to rain on the celebratory parade of those who took to congratulating the new mayor of London, I think it’s important that we address what it means to call Sadiq Khan one of our own, as belonging to a system that would have otherwise rejected him.

If we are to claim Sadiq Khan today, we must proudly claim the millions of Pakistani immigrants who have left their towns, villages and families behind in search of better opportunities abroad. Let us not see them as ‘the ones that got away’, insulated and safe from the turmoil of their native homeland, but instead as the oft-forgotten and under-appreciated contributors to the Pakistani economy, and as ambassadors of our country despite their hyphenated cultural identities. We must pledge to improve our broken political system, so that the son of a Pakistani bus driver can aspire to hold public office in Pakistan. So that, perhaps one day, the Christian, the Hindu, the so-called ‘other’ in this country, (as Khan and thousands of immigrants are perceived outside of their native countries) can aspire to hold the highest office in the land.

These are my hopes for a pluralistic Pakistan, one in which political power is not denied to those who the state deems ineligible, in which the odds are not stacked against the millions of young men and women yearning for opportunities that are not available. Instead of celebrating Khan, let us congratulate the electorate that voted him into office, and promise ourselves to break the vicious cycle of birthright politics in this country. If we are to claim Sadiq as one of our own, we must also work towards claiming the system through which he now holds the office of mayor. 

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2016.

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Parvez | 5 years ago | Reply @Ayub: Sycophancy has never been my strong suit......I believe in speaking my mind and I think that is the first step in intellectual honesty........if you disagree with me, do so on facts. Name calling and snide remarks is to use your own word ' immature '.
Ayub | 5 years ago | Reply @sashayub and @parvez I pity the low level of intellectual debate in Pakistan today... Clearly the Zia brain drain has affected those of you still in the country. Shutting the author down based on his family background is rather immature. If the so-called liberals want a progressive society, they mustn't employ the level of intolerance that you and others have shown in the comments on this article and others.
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