Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention was intended to humanise his steely wife, and he came across as genuinely smitten as he regaled the audience with tales of their relationship. Moving on to discuss his wife’s political career, he described her as a great “change maker”, though, in truth, he failed to expand upon the specific changes required from America’s next president.
Yet, by far the most jolting moment of his speech came near its end as Clinton set about conscripting various sub-groups of Americans into backing Hillary’s campaign. Between reaching out to undocumented immigrants with the offer of citizenship and to African Americans with support in addressing police brutality, Clinton regrettably stumbled into Trump-ism in his attempts to woo American Muslims, depicting them as foreigners, welcome only to the extent that they assist the war on terror.
“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 problem, here, is in the assumption. American Muslims should not have to prove their love of America and freedom, nor their hatred of terror, in order to be allowed to remain in their country. Nor is it their duty because of their religion to aid in the war on terror. No such conditions may be imposed upon their citizenship. In short, they ought to be considered in identical terms to the rest of the American population.
Intentionally or otherwise, Clinton implied that Muslims are therefore deserving of extra scrutiny, and are – because of their religion – to be considered guilty until proven innocent with regard to any suspicion of terrorist sympathies. Dr. Muqtedar Khan, professor of International Relations at the University of Delaware, responded to Clinton’s remarks:
No doubt he intended to convey to Muslims, and the rest of America, the contrast between Donald Trump’s exclusivist, neofascist attitude towards Muslims, and Hillary Clinton’s progressive, supportive and inclusive stance towards all minorities including American Muslims, but the one line that mentioned Muslims may have fallen far too short, and even dangerous in repeating the same patterns as other Islamophobes during this election cycle.
[…] The message stated by Clinton is we, American Muslims, can stay here if we love America and freedom and hate terrorism. How generous! […] Why the conditions? And why only while speaking about Muslims would he mention the word terror?
[…] The problem with the semantics of what Clinton said in his speech is that it borrows the Islamophobic assumptions that have plagued American political arena in the past several months. This was a good opportunity for Bill to push back against it and shift the conversation. Unfortunately, he framed his arguments within the same parameters of the Islamophobic discourse employed by Trump which treats Muslims as unwelcome foreigners.
In an election cycle defined by fever-pitched anti-Muslim incitement, Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric on Muslims continues to ring with ostentatious tolerance, yet it is repeatedly flanked by qualifiers such as ‘terror-hating’ and ‘peace-loving’, or the seemingly benign ‘moderate Muslim’ tag, which divisively frames the majority of Muslims as the exceptional few. This position represents a wholly condemnable concession on the part of the Democrats towards the neofascism of Trump, and it shifts the Overton Window, the spectrum of political discourse, to a realm wherein such parlance is not only perceived as tolerable but normal.
The implication that the “Americanness” of Muslim U.S. citizens is somehow suspect on the basis of religious background may be an idea that has emanated from the far-right, but it also belies a more troubling reality: the Clinton campaign, which portrays itself as promoting tolerance in the face of Trump-style bigotry, in fact echoes all too casually the dangerous, Islamophobic rhetoric employed by the Republican candidate. Hillary is the lesser of two evils, no doubt, but she is not progressive, nor liberal, and she is certainly not good news for the country, nor the world.