Sitting through the horror show that was the Republican National Convention, you’d think that there was no other way, but up. The anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and anti-black rhetoric that was overtly paraded out in speech after speech was expected, but shocking nonetheless. But while many have come to expect the onslaught of bigotry from the right, there have been some cringeworthy moments at this week’s Democratic National Convention as well.
What did Bill Clinton Just Say?
“If you’re a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you.” – Bill Clinton
As the former President of the United States delivered this line, the DNC crowd roared with approval. For many, the statement may seem innocuous on its face. Strategically, the tenor of the convention has been all about juxtaposing the unhinged nature of Donald Trump against the “more trustworthy” and “stable” Hillary. In the wake of Trump’s consistently inflammatory rhetoric about Muslims, Bill Clinton’s comments were aimed at being a galvanizing force for the Left and those who are undecided. But for many in the Muslim community, those comments fell flat.
Let’s pause and break this statement down:
Hate Terror? – Why yes, in fact – Muslims do hate terror. That is because Muslims are the vast majority of terror victims worldwide. Ask the people of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, Turkey and many others how they feel.
But that’s just part of the point. The only time you choose to mention Muslims in your speech is through the lens of terror. The Clinton campaign has consistently used this type of narrative throughout the debate process. This type of rhetoric paints the diverse, deeply-entrenched American Muslim community as one-dimensional and useful for only one thing, when it comes to life in America. Which brings me to my next point:
Stay here? – I don’t know how it was possible to hit so many wrong notes in a single sentence, but somehow Clinton was able to do it. Telling Muslims to “stay here” gives the impression that Islam is something “foreign” or “other” – when in reality, Islam has been in the fabric of this nation since its inception.
Even though Muslims make up a small minority in America, with estimates as high as 7 million people – it is fallacious to paint the community as consisting solely of immigrants. Historians have estimated that over 20% – and even as high as 30% of African slaves that were brought to American colonies were of Muslim descent. And while those who were enslaved were beaten and stripped of their religion over time, it is undeniable that Islam was a part of their lives.
Today, 1/3 of Muslims in this country are African American, which goes against consistent this narrative being pushed from both right and left, that Muslims are “foreign.”
When it comes to the immigrant community in America, this holds true as well. Muslim immigrants have been here in America in waves, ever since the late 1800’s. The very first mosque in America was built in North Dakota during the 1920’s.
“We want you.” – One has to ask the question: Who is “we”? Muslims are just as part of the fabric of the “we” that makes up America as anyone else. As outlined earlier, our roots go back as deep – if not sometimes deeper than those in the Clinton family. While he is trying to make a point of just how intolerant Trump and Co. are, his words have a tinge of Orientalism to them.
This wasn’t the first time Bill Clinton has gotten into hot water over what were perceived to be condescending remarks toward Muslims. At a forum he was speaking at earlier this year, he told an ambitious young Muslim “this is a pretty steep career lens for a Muslim woman.” To which, she replied: “Well actually, I don’t think it’s too steep for a Muslim woman.”
The moral of the story is: The minority community does not want to be talked at. Whether black, immigrant, Muslim – or all of the above, we realize that there are societal issues that we are dealing with. We realize that we are facing record levels of anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment. We realize that black men are being killed by law enforcement at an alarming rate, in comparison to everyone else. We realize that these issues need to be addressed and rectified now, and not be pushed aside.
But rather than using our communities as a prop and “talking at” us, it is important to get away from these tropes that we have become so accustomed to hearing. Also, it’s probably not a good idea to bring in a mayor who defended “Stop and Frisk” and unchecked blanket surveillance upon an entire community of Muslims. Yes, that’s right – things got even more awkward, as the DNC decided to bring in former NYC Mayor, Michael Bloomberg to address the crowd.
The Muslim community in New York City is still reeling from the effects of the NYPD’s blanket spying program that spanned beyond the city’s borders – throughout the entire Northeast. Businesses were spied upon, informants planted in mosques, students followed to conventions, and a community’s trust betrayed. Bloomberg was an ardent defender of this ongoing program that spanned a better part of a decade, even though it was revealed that “zero actionable intelligence” was gathered from spying on Muslims. It was no surprise then, that Muslim activists expressed strong objections to having the former mayor on a prime-time speaking docket. He’s not even a Democrat – but therein lies the strategy. The DNC is trying to court disgruntled Republicans to make the switch for this election, due to the extreme nature of Trump and his campaign. In the end, the request was for naught – and the mayor who alienated so many minority communities got his speaking gig.
You could say all of this ties in together. This election, for many out there boils down to “a lesser of two evils.” The DNC is presenting itself as a more tolerant, open option in comparison to what the RNC has to offer. They have, essentially done a good job of denouncing the overt bellicose and Islamophobic language that Trump has served up in previous months. If we look a little deeper, however – it seems as though there is still much work to do. Bill Clinton’s comments were just a glimpse of this looming beneath the surface. The Muslim community is a diverse, vibrant, and well-entrenched one. It is time to stop talking at us, to move beyond the stereotypical tropes out there, and listen to what we have to say.