(Photo: US Embassy London)
You can tell that an important election is just around the corner because the tabloid newspapers are in full ‘smear campaign’ mode against politicians running for office.
Step forward The Daily Mail which has taken the tired old ‘extremist connections’ allegations about Labour candidate Sadiq Khan (pictured) and ran with them.
In an article titled WITH FRIENDS LIKE THIS, IS SADIQ KHAN FIT TO RUN LONDON? writer Isabel Oakeshott – co-author with Lord Ashcroft of the David Cameron pig-gate revelations – comes out with a series of paper thin and below-the-belt accusations against the Tooting MP.
Using what journalist Mehdi Hasan has referred to as the ‘six degrees of Islamist separation’, Ms Oakeshott assembles a list of terrorists, extremists and dodgy organisations that Mr Khan may at some point have been in the same room with or known a friend of. These are presented as examples of his ‘dealings with extremists’ that ‘raise doubts over his suitability as London’s next mayor’.
The list of ‘crimes’ Mr Khan has committed are as follows:
‘After a funeral a few months ago, he stopped to speak to a convicted terrorist’
This refers to a funeral of a Muslim lady in his constituency, which Mr Khan attended and – as local MP – shook hands with some of the attendees. One of these hands belonged to ‘convicted terrorist’ Babar Ahmad who exchanged ‘brief pleasantries’ with Mr Khan before he moved on.
As if this wasn’t tenuous enough, it turns out Mr Ahmad is actually a convicted terrorist in the sense that he spent 11 years imprisoned without trial for hosting a website that allowed two articles supporting the Taliban to be posted in 2000-01. Following extradition to the US, he was eventually released after a trial where the judge described him as ‘generous, humane and empathetic’ and a ‘good person’ who was never interested in terrorism. Mr Khan had been part of a high-profile campaign to prevent the extradition to the US, as had numerous other politicians including current mayor Boris Johnson and current Tory mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith.
‘He once shared a platform with convicted terrorist Yasser al-Siri’
As Chair of human rights organisation Liberty, Mr Khan spoke at an event in 2003 campaigning against the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Also on the bill were Egyptian Islamist militant al-Siri and Sajeel Shahid, one of the leaders of UK-based extremist group Al-Muhajiroun. But being on the same bill as someone at an event does not mean you endorse their views. Particularly in politics, where in the interests of diplomacy or supporting a particular cause individuals may find themselves in the same space as those whose ideologies they may oppose. Or, in the case of Prime Ministers, hosting them at Downing Street (or even siding with them in a war).
‘His parliamentary assistant posted homophobic and misogynistic messages online’
His assistant Shueb Salar was found to have posted stupid joke tweets using the words ‘faggots’ and ‘hoes’ back in 2012. Khan, who has been a consistent supporter of gay marriage, suspended Mr Salar immediately and accepted his subsequent resignation.
‘He ‘followed’ two Isis supporters on Twitter’
Out of 7,300 people that Mr Khan follows on the social media site, one has posted links to Daesh propaganda videos and another tweets regularly about his brother who has been found guilty of supporting Afghan insurgents. But then if 0.03% of your social media contacts supporting extremism equals ‘support for extremism’, then the number of terrorist sympathisers in this country is going to raise considerably.
‘His former brother-in-law had links to extremist group Al-Muhajiroun’
Back in February, The Sun claimed that Makbool Javaid, who was married to Khan’s sister Farhat until 2011, was a supporter of Al-Muhajiroun in the 1990s, an allegation which Mr Javaid has repeatedly denied. Regardless, Mr Khan has had no contact with Mr Javaid in over a decade. Mr Javaid works for a UK law firm and, in an embarrassing turn of events for The Sun, it emerged that the paper is one of the firm’s main clients.
‘He attended meetings organised by a group supported by a terrorist’
Perhaps the most tenuous one yet. Mr Khan attended four meetings run by an organisation called Stop Political Terror during his time campaigning against the extradition of Mr Ahmad. The group had no links to terrorism itself, but wait… in 2004, US extremist Anwar al-Akwali was listed as a supporter.
Stop Political Terror went on to merge with CAGE, an advocacy organisation that has attracted controversy for associating with Islamists and expressions of support for an Islamic caliphate. But although some politicians including Tory MP Jane Ellison have worked with them, Mr Khan has always distanced himself from CAGE and has described them as ‘a vile organisation’.
‘He attended an annual conference that has had alleged extremist speakers in the past’
In 2008, Mr Khan attended the Global Peace and Unity festival, an interfaith gathering organised by a Muslim TV station. Khan attended in his capacity as a government minister with civil servants. The festival has attracted controversy on account of a handful of speakers considered to have extremist views, although on the whole it’s considered a fairly mainstream event attended by many politicians, artistic performers and representatives from other fields.
‘He attended a 10th anniversary celebration of an organisation outlawed by the Israeli government’
Mr Khan along with Jeremy Corbyn attended the 2007 celebration of the Palestinian Return Centre, a UK-based organisation advocating on behalf of Palestinian refugees. Although the organisation is outlawed in Israel, it is recognised by the UN and in 2015 was granted special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.
It’s clear that The Daily Mail and other papers that have reported on Sadiq Khan in this way are going out of their way to scrape the barrel and dig the dirt on a man who, whatever you may think of him or his politics, has a track record of speaking out against terrorism and extremism (including in the very tabloid papers that attack him) and of trying to build relationships between different communities and faith groups. He is well-known within the London Muslim community as a moderate whose stances have often upset conservatives and extremists (he has spoken about receiving death threats for his support of gay marriage).
Deliberately misleading articles like this one in The Daily Mail are not just shameful and desperate. In this current climate of rising far-right sentiment, they are dangerous too.
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