Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Business Recorder editorial (as published) May 10, 2016

A Muslim London mayor Sadiq Khan, the 45-year-old son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, defeated his rival Zac Goldsmith, the billionaire younger brother of Jemima Khan, for the post of London's mayor in an election marred by the latter's campaign tactics of smearing his opponent for his religious and ethnic background and allegations of Khan being close to, if not himself, an extremist. These tactics backfired however, and London's diverse electorate handed Sadiq Khan a clear victory with 44 percent of the vote against Goldsmith's 37 percent. This victory cleared the path for Sadiq Khan to become the first Muslim mayor of London. Perhaps we should not be surprised by this outcome if we glance at the trajectory of Sadiq Khan's life and political career. The fifth child of seven brothers and a sister of Pakistani immigrant working class parents, Sadiq Khan studied law, rose in his profession with his human rights work, and earned the start of his political spurs as a local councillor from Tooting, London, where he still lives. From those early beginnings, Sadiq Khan never looked back, becoming an MP from the area in 2005 and being elevated to communities' minister in 2008 by the then Labour prime minister, Gordon Brown. He later served as transport minister. Sadiq Khan has the distinction of being the first Muslim to attend British cabinet meetings. Known as a moderate, Khan nevertheless regretted during the campaign defending 'unsavoury' characters and sharing public platforms with Muslim extremists. That legacy emanated from his work as a human rights lawyer and did not seem to have materially affected his electoral prospects despite a smear campaign launched by his rival with, surprisingly, support from Prime Minister David Cameron. The 'dirty tricks' campaign attempted to divide London's electorate on religious and ethnic lines, but only succeeded in dividing the Conservative ranks, with many prominent leaders of the party expressing disquiet at the nature of the negative campaigning. But the last word on this Conservative debacle in the capital's mayoral contest belongs to Sadiq Khan, who said it was the victory of "hope against fear and unison against division". Khan now has his work cut out in fulfilling his campaign pledges of affordable housing and transport, reduction of pollution and encouraging better paid jobs for all Londoners, in whose name he has promised to govern. Sadiq Khan's story of from rags to riches points to a significant fact of British society, and in fact of most developed countries. The education system, while retaining elite schools affordable only by the rich, boasts an excellent state education system that opens the door to those from humble origins, thereby fulfilling the potential of education as a great social leveller. It also indicates that Britain is a merit-based society, hangovers from its aristocratic and imperial past notwithstanding. Pakistan could learn a lesson or two from this saga of triumph over origins of disadvantage. Unfortunately, we in Pakistan have by now earned the dubious distinction of not only being unable to sustain institutions inherited from the past, but also incompetent in creating new or better ones. Take the case of the education system here. The state education system has been systematically over the years reduced to a joke, if not a monumental tragedy. Ghost schools, ghost teachers, unimaginative curricula and uninspiring if not incompetent teachers litter the state educational landscape. The advent in recent years of the elite private schools may have resolved to some extent the angst of a privileged minority, but has also served to put the spotlight on the glaring gulf between elite private and state education for the masses. In fact it could be argued that the mushroom growth of elite public schools has brought in its wake complacency amongst the ruling elite vis-a-vis fixing the woes of the state education sector. Reproducing if not expanding illiteracy and at best turning out certified illiterates is hardly going to serve Pakistan's interests in catching up and competing with today's world. The present course militates not only against this desirable goal but it also serves to shut firmly the door on the possibility of evolving into a merit-based society through access to quality education for all. Copyright Business Recorder, 2016

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