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Exposing Sadiq Khan's Family's Links to Extremists Was Not Islamophobic

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Last week, my newspaper published a story I wrote about Labour mayoral hopeful Sadiq Khan's family's links to one of Britain's most notorious extremist groups.

It turns out, the story revealed that Mr Khan's brother-in-law for more than 20 years took part in and spoke at events organised by vile group Al-Muhajiroun.

Cue accusations of racism, Islamophobia and every other type of phobia quicker than the time it takes to read the full article.

And boy did they fly in - on Twitter, mostly, but also from friends of people close to me.

I was told the "real story is your own racism", that I created it "out of thin air" in a targeted "hatchet job" and that my "one-sided assassination" was an "Islamophobic" piece of "dirty tricks" to help Mr Khan's Tory rival, Zac Goldsmith, get his hands on the keys to City Hall when Boris Johnson steps down in May.

These accusations, from people who claim to believe in freedom of expression, are absurd. The "real" story was, in fact, an exercise in what the media should be doing - scrutinising politicians' own records.

The truth is Mr Khan, who I have the utmost respect for and may yet vote for, brought the scrutiny on himself when in November he gave a speech in which he said Muslims have a "special role to play" to "challenge" radicals because the majority of Muslims "have met an extremist".

If it is in the public interest for Mr Khan to make such a call to all Muslims, due to their "special" responsibility (something not all Muslims agree they have), it follows that it is in the public interest to ask what experiences he bases his assertions on and what he has done to challenge extremism if and when coming into contact with it.

It is also legitimate to ask to what extent he fulfilled his "special role" during the years his sister's husband was appearing alongside notorious hate preachers, such as Omar Bakri, and giving divisive speeches.

Answers to these questions are better off in the open. Yes, you cannot choose your brother-in-law, but would Mr Khan have the moral highground to call on Muslims to challenge extremism if it turned out he had failed to sufficiently do so himself?

And was his "special role" speech a cynical attempt to garner support among non-Muslims - possibly at the expense of people of the faith - to try and show he takes a strong stance when he may not have done in practice?

The article sought to answer such questions and invite Mr Khan to comment, in the same way that, when Mr Johnson talks about housing, his housing record - and perhaps even his personal housing arrangements - should be scrutinised.

The sensitive subject matter does not mean extremism should be off the table for discussion and, even more so, does not mean anyone exploring it in the way the article did must automatically be racist or Islamophobic.

The reporting was responsible, left in all the key facts and was in no way a so-called "hatchet job".

For instance, another recent article in a different publication reported that Mr Khan appeared alongside an extremist at an event in Trafalgar Square in 2006.

But it failed to mention the event was called "United Against Extremism", that it had been organised in protest against the hate preacher Abu Hamza and that it was also publicly backed by the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

Our story left in the circumstantial facts, printed Mr Khan's response in full and made clear he had had no contact with his former (he divorced Mr Khan's sister in 2011 after marrying her in 1989) brother-in-law for at least ten years - which went some way in answering the question over the Labour candidate's own record on taking a stand against extremism.

It also doesn't seem to matter to the accusers that plenty of stories deemed positive have been written about Mr Khan and his colleagues, including when I went to Gatwick with him and laid out his positive vision for an extra runway there rather a third one at Heathrow. Equally, stories deemed both positive and negative have been written about figures from other political parties.

Those throwing accusations, just like actual racists, fail to see the bigger picture.

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