One line toward the end of Bill Clinton’s DNC speech last night caught the attention of a lot of Muslims worldwide. Between urging Hispanic Americans and Black Americans to vote for his wife, Hillary Clinton, to be the next POTUS, Bill Clinton said:
“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.”
The speech aimed to humanize Hillary Clinton, who, according to a recent Reuters poll, most American still don’t find “honest and truthful.” So her husband took to the stage in Philadelphia last night and started talking about her impeccable work as a “change maker,” social worker, and so much more.
All that seemed to go over pretty well with Democrats, but the line about Muslims was what set off a fair amount of reaction on social media—particularly from American Muslims. The resulting debate reveals a lot about how much emphasis Muslims put on language, particularly from the national stage. It shows how an election cycle filled with bombastic remarks, contention, and xenophobic fervor has made the Muslim community ever more sensitive about what politicians have to say about them—even if it’s just a one-liner.
Some saw the Clinton’s line as a positive gesture toward Muslims from a prominent American figure—something that doesn’t happen very often, particularly given the climate of fear mostly engendered by the GOP. For them, it was nice to hear that they were “wanted” and to be asked to “stay.”
Words Muslims never hear in the Republican Party: “We want you.” – @billclinton
After almost 1/4 century in the @GOP, there’s no ❤️ here.😏
— Mohamed Elibiary (@MohamedElibiary) July 27, 2016
— Anand Giridharadas (@AnandWrites) July 27, 2016
Other American Muslims weren’t so thankful. Their criticisms may reveal the amount of distance that still exist between them and America’s politicians who still manage to set them off even in an effort to pander.
For them, the problem with Clinton’s line is that it takes Muslims out of the American context and put them into the “terrorism” bracket.
Linda Sarsour sums it up:
Why is it every damn time we bring up Muslims it’s in the context of terrorism? We r more than national security sound bites. #DemsInPhilly
— Linda Sarsour (@lsarsour) July 27, 2016
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)’s Chicago branch, wrote on Facebook:
‘I appreciate Bill Clinton affirming that Muslims oppose terrorism. We do. We do. Thank you. But I do dream of a day when Muslims are mentioned outside of the context of terrorism and in the contexts that we live in daily. For example in a discussion about health care. Muslims are 1% of the US population and 10% of its doctors. That is a 1000% overrepresentation. If one had to “stereotype” Muslims based on lop-sided data, it would be that “Muslims are doctors.”’
Peter Beinart of The Atlantic came out with a piece that frames Clinton’s line as a slip into “Trumpism,” an inadvertent move into right-wing rhetoric that Democrats are supposed to steer clear of.
When he talked about Muslims, Bill Clinton lapsed into Trumpism: https://t.co/bX3RT0do4Q
— Madiha Afzal (@MadihaAfzal) July 27, 2016
So, Mexican-Americans are asked to vote for Hillary if they want immigration reform, and Black Americans are asked to vote Democrat if they want less police brutality. But Muslims are referenced differently in the speech: they’re asked to “stay” only if they “love America,” “freedom,” and “hate terror.”
If Bill Clinton had said: “If you’re black, hate crime & love America,” an uproar would rightly have ensued. But Muslims? They’re fair game.
— Nathan Lean (@nathanlean) July 27, 2016
Many heard him saying that the first thing that one has to do regarding Muslims is to sort out which ones are against terror. That’s the most important framework and only the good Muslims are welcome to stay.
The “American-ness” of Muslims is really predicated upon those clichéd qualifiers. Whereas everyone else’s inherent citizenship is assumed and unquestioned, the Muslim’s is questionable. And it rubbed a lot of Muslims the wrong way.
Muslims aren’t a foreign entity. pic.twitter.com/uguZxAs4jH
— Imraan Siddiqi (@imraansiddiqi) July 27, 2016
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) July 27, 2016
Aaaand Clinton reiterates this idea that Muslim-Americans are mostly valuable for the cause of fighting terror 🤔
— Sara Yasin (@missyasin) July 27, 2016
If you’re a Muslim and you hate terror, WTF? Imagine if he said, If you’re black and you hate crime…
— (((YousefMunayyer))) (@YousefMunayyer) July 27, 2016
Some Muslims reflected on social media that Clinton’s line was spelling out a clear double standard. It treats Muslims with a level of suspicion that others don’t have to deal with.
White folks never have these conditions on their humanity and citizenship. Never.
— Samira (@caramelwithsalt) July 27, 2016
That Muslims are still placed within this national security framework in a major speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention says more about today’s political climate than it does either party. In fact, for some, there’s little difference between the two parties when it comes to their stance on the unfair, Islamophobic policies that have permeated throughout American politics and society. Whatever difference exists simply as a matter of tone.
The GOP and the Dems actually push out very similar Islamophobic framework for American Muslims; difference is in delivery.
— Sana Saeed (@SanaSaeed) July 27, 2016
But tone isn’t without consequence, especially in the highly charged and divisive atmosphere that has come to define American politics. Tone and delivery have become lubricants and facilitators of policy itself. Today’s Trump-led rhetoric helped engender a political climate that makes it okay for people to express, advocate for and, most importantly, legislate the kind of anti-Muslim sentiment that has come to comprise much of public opinion as of late.
Clinton’s speech was supposed to counter the xenophobic atmosphere that has come to represent the GOP’s rhetoric ahead of this year’s election. The line about Muslims was supposed to be couched in a call for unity, but the way he delivered it has become a matter of controversy.
And yet, this collective social media backlash prompted further conversation and debate, with many Muslims urging others to not exaggerate the purpose or power of a single line in Clinton’s 40-minute speech. Some took issue with Beinart’s widely cited perspective and warned against reading too much into the quote.
— Nervana Mahmoud (@Nervana_1) July 27, 2016
Others pointed out that the line gets across an inclusive sentiment in a difficult climate for Muslims in America.
Still, Bill knows what he’s doing. This country isn’t ready to accept Muslims without that qualifier bc they’re inherently suspect.
— Ismat Sarah Mangla (@ismat) July 27, 2016
This back-and-forth that’s resulted from a single line in a single speech shows just how much words and semantics still matter to American Muslims, a minority that usually gets little by way of positive attention in the national media.
There’s a divide when it comes to which aspect of Clinton’s line to emphasize. Some are happy to take what they can get and accept what they see as the speech’s inclusive sentiment.
Others note that it’s more important to point out that American politics is still only interested in using Muslims as pawns to score points when it comes to national security and counter-terrorism.
We American Muslims aren’t just terror-fighting automatons. Muslims can be good at other things (like tax policy or education reform?).
— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) July 27, 2016
The DNC has been marred by a good amount of controversy and dissent this year, with Senator Bernie Sanders finally deciding to endorse Hillary Clinton, his rival in the contentious primary, and to whom he lost the popular vote to be the Democratic nominee for President.
Upon leaked emails (via Wikileaks) revealing that officials of the Democratic National Committee mocked Sanders and conspired to sabotage his campaign, DNC chairwoman Deborah Wasserman Schultz also decided to resign.
The debate around just how different the Democrats are from the GOP on major issues continue as American Muslims are reminded yet again of their strange place in this bizarre election season. Regardless of what one thinks of Bill Clinton’s overture to Muslims, it’s fair to say that the response to it shows just how sensitive Muslims now are to the way they’re talked about and portrayed. No doubt this is a result of the fever-pitch of xenophobia and exclusion that has characterized much of American politics and society in the few years.