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Conservatives face calls for racism inquiry over Khan 'smear campaign'

UK's ruling party accused of Islamophobia over tweet suggesting new London mayor had 'jihadi associates'
Sadiq Khan (second L), pictured with Israeli ambassador Mark Regev (L), Holocaust survivor Ben Helfgott and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis at a Holocaust memorial service on Sunday (AFP)

The UK’s governing Conservative Party is facing accusations of racism and calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia within its ranks after the leader of the party’s Tamil association said the election of Sadiq Khan had put the new London mayor’s “jihadi associates” in a position of influence.

Khan, who is the first Muslim to hold what is considered one of the most influential positions in British politics, on Sunday accused the Conservatives of using “fear and innuendo to try to turn different ethnic and religious groups against each other”.

His comments followed a bitterly contested campaign in which his Conservative opponent Zac Goldsmith repeatedly suggested that Khan was associated with supposedly "extremist" individuals.

But the attacks on Khan continued at the weekend with Aru Sivananthan, the chairman of the Tamil Conservative Association, writing on Twitter on Saturday that he “shuddered at the thought of Sadiq Khan jihadi associates being placed in close proximity to influence."

Sivananthan included the Twitter handle of London’s Metropolitan Police but subsequently deleted the tweet.

In subsequent tweets in response to criticism, Sivananthan said he was “raising a legitimate concern about Khan not repudiating ideology of those he’s stood with”.

He also said he was not racist: “I’m glad London had its first Moslem mayor. Just wish it wasn’t Sadiq Khan.”

But Sivananthan’s comments prompted calls for the Conservatives to launch an inquiry into Islamophobia within the party.

Miqdaad Versi, the assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), described Sivananthan’s remarks as “disgusting” and said: “This is worse than dog-whistle racism. There needs to be a review of Islamophobia in the Tory party.

Sunny Hundal, a blogger and journalist, accused Sivananthan of “open racism”.

Michael Fallon, the UK’s defence minister, also faced criticism over the weekend after repeatedly refusing to confirm that he trusted Khan with the security of the British capital in an interview on BBC radio on Saturday.

Fallon, who had attacked Khan’s credentials on security during the campaign, eventually said London is “safe under a Conservative government working with thew new mayor of London”.

He also dismissed concerns about Goldsmith’s campaign as part of the “rough and tumble of politics”.

Some within Conservative ranks have acknowledged concerns about the tone of the campaign including Sayeeda Warsi, a former party chairman and the first Muslim woman to sit at cabinet level.

Mohammed Amin, the chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, also wrote in a piece on the Conservative Home website that Goldsmith had made "repeated and risible attempts to smear Khan" and suggested that the campaign may have increased the likelihood of the UK suffering a terrorist attack by increasing the vulnerability of young Muslims to radicalisation.

"Ironically, in my opinion Zac’s attempts to smear Khan have probably increased our risks of suffering terrorism. ISIS [IS] are perpetually seeking to radicalise and recruit young British Muslims to their cause," he wrote.

"At the margin, I believe there is a risk that young impressionable British Muslims who witnessed Khan being smeared in this manner will thereby be made more vulnerable to radicalisation than they were before."

Fallon also faces possible legal action after repeating Prime Minister David Cameron’s assertion that an imam in Khan’s local mosque in South London was a supporter of the Islamic State (IS) group.

Suliman Gani told MEE that he instructed lawyers to look into Fallon’s comments, which unlike Cameron’s in the House of Commons were not spoken behind the cover of parliamentary privilege.

Khan, a human rights lawyer who is considered to be on Labour’s right-wing and a critic of the current leader Jeremy Corbyn, was repeatedly attacked by Goldsmith for “giving oxygen, sharing platforms and giving apologies for people who have extreme views”.

Khan retorted that many of those encounters involved people he was representing as a lawyer or with whom he was connected through his work. He also made fighting extremism a central pledge of his campaign.

"London faces a deadly threat from extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. It’s a threat that I will act to tackle as mayor. I will be the British Muslim who takes the fight to the extremists,” he said in a speech in March.

In his first public engagement on Sunday, Khan attended a Holocaust remembrance ceremony along with thousands of members of London's Jewish communities and about 150 Holocaust survivors.

The ceremony was also attended by Mark Regev, Israel's recently appointed ambassador to the UK, with whom Khan posed for photos.

Khan’s success elevates him to a position that is among the most prominent in British politics and gained him widespread coverage in international media.

Among those to congratulate him were Canadian actor William Shatner, who referred to one of his most famous scenes as Captain Kirk in the 1982 Star Trek movie The Wrath of Khan in a congratulatory tweet addressed to the namesake of Ricardo Montalban’s eponymous character.