Although I spent most of the summer trying to ignore media coverage of the U.S. presidential election, it was nearly impossible. Watching clips from the Democratic National Convention, I was astonished that Muslim-Americans from all walks of life, from the director of Council on American-Islamic relations to Congressman Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), were invited to speak. In their addresses, they reminded us that they are part of American society like any other citizen, while decrying the Islamophobic comments of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.
We saw Democrats riposte Trump’s planned ban on Muslims speech with Khizr Khan, the father of a fallen military serviceman, and his pocket Constitution. While it seemed clear to these inspirational speakers that Muslim-Americans have a friend in the Democrats and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I cannot help but feel that neither of the two presidential candidates is a viable option for Muslim-Americans.
Muslim-Americans have been at the center of the presidential campaign under the pretense of security policy. Various Republican primary contenders from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to Trump posited frightening and irrational proposals threatening to discriminate against America’s Muslim communities. The fight against the Islamic State group, as well as high-profile terrorist attacks from France to California, further centered public attention on Muslims. Trump used these events as examples in fearmongering insinuations, claiming in a past speech that there was some widespread hatred among Muslims and only he could defend America from “radical Islamic terrorism.”
These attacks by Trump on the American Muslim community have thrown many Muslims into the arms of Clinton. These Muslims seek refuge in a candidate whose moderate rhetoric and plans to create a nation “for all Americans” is as inspiring as it is welcoming. However, whereas Trump’s rhetoric expresses the hard reality of his beliefs, Clinton’s speeches do not address her controversial policies from the past.
Though Clinton has never pushed Islamophobic rhetoric, few Muslims actually support her policies. She is a military interventionist — she supported the Iraq War as a senator, which she has since deemed a mistake, and backed violent regimes as secretary of state, such as Saudi Arabia. Some have even attributed her actions to many of the issues in the Middle East, including her support for military intervention in Libya that has led to a destabilization of the country since. Data from research institutions like Pew and Gallup have found that Muslims in America widely disagree with several of Clinton’s past policies, and thus their current support for her as a candidate may be founded in their fears of a Trump administration.
While Clinton has come out strongly in slamming Islamophobia, her sincerity deserves scrutiny. I am elated so many prominent Muslim-Americans were allowed to speak at the Democratic National Convention and show the world Muslim-Americans are just like other ordinary Americans. However, I cannot help but feel the speakers were given this opportunity to maintain Clinton’s campaign image as “anti-Trump” or “anti-Republican.” The former secretary is still on record as supporting the USA Patriot Act and, as a consequence, further surveillance of some Muslim-Americans as well as the general public, so some skepticism cannot be totally disregarded.
That being said, her alternative is a demagogue who trumpets overt Islamophobia and inane, unclear policies. The real tragedy of this campaign is that it is of rhetoric and ideas, not policies. I have no fear a Trump presidency can enact a “Muslim ban” given the independence and complexity of America’s legal system. Yet his ridiculous rhetoric and Clinton’s responses obfuscate either candidate of responsibility to engage in a substantive discussion on new and useful policies that can actually help America now and into the future.
Both candidates have embraced old talking points and excited rhetoric to encourage support, but neither candidate has given real substantive ideas and policies that could actually improve the current lives of America’s Muslims. What I really fear is not Trump’s small hands blocking Muslims from entering the country, but how this toxic political climate will fail to push forward policies to solve the problems of our time and instead continue to use Muslim-Americans as an object of suspicion and debate. Such a future is detrimental to all Americans, regardless of religion.
Moez Hayat is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.
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