US Election Perspective Series: Clinton’s Anti-Islamophobic Rhetoric is Theatrical

In Cairo in 2009. >Flickr/Muhammad Ghafari/Reuters

US Election Perspective Series: Clinton’s Anti-Islamophobic Rhetoric is Theatrical


The recent surge in violence against Muslims and people of color has been staggering: targeting of mosques with gunfire, brutal assaults against women wearing the hijab, violent arrests and the extrajudicial, state-sanctioned killings of Black Americans by police officers. Politicians have responded with a mixture of hand-wringing and calls for peace, with most of their inflammatory rhetoric directed at protesters and organizations such as Black Lives Matter.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who faces Republican Donald Trump in the fight for the White House, has responded to Islamophobia with words of inclusion, and to rising anti-Black racism with unity, and for this she’s routinely heralded as being progressive. Clinton has called Muslim Americans “brothers and sisters,” and said the term “radical Islam” makes it sound “like we are declaring war against a religion,” and for this she’s received praise from Muslims and non-Muslims alike. This meritorious rejection of prevailing Islamophobia, no matter how sweet sounding and seemingly effortless, is fiction, especially when we examine the platforms Clinton upholds and the policies she’s supported over the years.

Clinton publicly stated after the attack in Orlando that she wished Americans would get back into the post-9/11 spirit. “It is time to get back to the spirit of those days. The spirit of 9/12,” Clinton said during a campaign stop. However, the immediate post-9/11 world is a nagging memory for many Muslim Americans. Islamophobic hate crimes increased a horrifying 1,700% in 2001, and even now, anti-Muslim actions are becoming far bolder. It’s no longer enough to leave bacon, or even a pig’s head, at the footsteps of a mosque. Islamophobes have set fire to mosques and even sprayed their walls with bullets. Anti-Muslim protests have also increased; fully armed demonstrators have stood outside Muslim community centers with threatening messages. Data show that the main targets of Islamophobes and Islamophobic violence are women, likely because they are the most visibly Muslim.

The so-called war on terror, ushered in by the George W. Bush administration and furthered in many ways by Obama’s, was one of the main points of unification in the American political arena after 9/11. This war without end has led to countless deaths across the Middle East and North Africa, bolstered right-wing politicians and think tanks in the United States, and helped increase surveillance of Muslim Americans. Clinton supported the most invasive and violent provisions created thanks to the war on terror, including the notoriously dystopian USA Patriot Act, which she voted to reauthorize in 2006. Her support of the Patriot Act was followed by demands for the extension of the deeply flawed terrorist watch list, which has little oversight and whose victims are outright denied due process.

Clinton’s hawkishness, which has certainly helped in padding her foundation’s coffers, isn’t new, and neither is her theatrical anti-Islamophobia rhetoric, all of which is designed to project a progressivism that does not exist. You cannot sell arms to those who maim and execute Muslims — as Hillary Clinton has done countless times as secretary of state — and then genuinely claim to support Muslim life. You cannot help establish surveillance measures that curb the civil rights of Muslim Americans and then call for solidarity. There should be no unity with those who seek to destroy our communities, no matter how big their smiles, how flowery their speeches and no matter how often they say our names.

Non-Black Muslim communities are certainly not the only ones facing state-sanctioned violence. There have been 625 documented police killings as of early August this year, including the brutal killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Despite arguing for White Americans “to do a better job of listening when African Americans talk about the barriers they face,” Clinton has instead increased these barriers or found ways to formulate new ones. Her acceptance of campaign donations from private prison lobbyists, for example, one of which is also “a registered lobbyist for the Geo Group, a company that operates a number of jails, including immigrant detention centers, for profit,” is rarely discussed as being harmful, especially to women.

According to a report published in 2013 by The Sentencing Project, “[T]he rate of increase of women continued to outpace that of men, as it has for several decades. From 2000 to 2009 the number of women incarcerated in state or federal prisons rose by 21.6%, compared to a 15.6% increase for men.” The rate of growth of women in prison has climbed “646% from 1980 to 2010, compared to a 419% increase for men. … [I]n 2010 there were 112,000 women in state and federal prison and 205,000 women overall in prison or jail.”

After the killing of five police officers in Dallas in July, Clinton called on Americans not to vilify the police, and reaffirmed her belief that they are “protectors.” “[Those officers] were protecting a peaceful march. They were people cloaked in authority making sure their fellow citizens could exercise their right to protest authority. And there is nothing more vital to our democracy than that. And they gave their lives for it.” The martyrdom mythology that routinely follows most police deaths isn’t new to the U.S. by any means, but her liberal soft-shoeing around the issue of pervasive, systemic police brutality, and empty platitudes with calls for “reform,” offer more of the same for victims of police terror: nothing.

Alternatives to present-day policing already exist, and organizations including the Anti Police-Terror Project have offered their communities an answer not only to police violence, but also other forms of abuse sanctioned by the state, including the cutting of funds for social services. The reforms being advocated by Clinton and other liberal politicians will do nothing to end, let alone curb, police brutality. For example, body cameras can be turned off, footage can be “lost,” and still there is no accountability. Activist Mariame Kaba, a prison abolitionist and organizer, calls on us to push for liberatory justice, meaning reparations for victims of police brutality, proposals to disarm the police, and “legislation to decrease and re-direct policing and prison funds to other social goods,” among other things. Presently, no politician running for office outside third-party candidates, like Gloria La Riva and Monica Moorehead, are demanding these policy changes.

Marginalized communities will find no justice at their polling station, and the answer to this is to organize — not only among each other, but also across organizations. Power is building in cross-organizational movement, and it’s ours. Clinton is no solution to a problem that goes far beyond Trump. The remedy begins with a diverse, united mobilizing effort focused against bigotry, and not with a waiting line at the ballot box.


This article appears in the Summer/Fall 2016 print issue of The Islamic Monthly.

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