Whether he’s calling for a ban on Muslim immigration or the wholesale surveillance of American Muslim communities, Donald Trump’s Islamophobia throughout the presidential campaign has been notorious and well documented.
But Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric on American Muslims isn’t doing them any favors, either.
In Wednesday’s (Oct. 19) third presidential debate, Clinton said the US needs “to work with American Muslim communities who are on the front lines to identify and prevent attacks.” It wasn’t a new talking point; Clinton has consistently employed that language in her campaign. She singled out the Muslim community in the first and second debates, as well: “We need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears on our front lines.”
On the face of it, Clinton’s rhetoric doesn’t seem blatantly problematic. But her framing of Muslims solely in terms of national security has an insidious effect in continuing to stigmatize them as something less than fully American.
American Muslims don’t possess some special knowledge of terror attacks. They are simply trying to live unsensational lives, serving as doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, artists and journalists. Their citizenship shouldn’t come with conditions—it’s not contingent on how “useful” they are in the war on terror.
“It’s weird how politicians keep telling me I’m on the front line of fighting terrorism when I’m just trying to get through a sugar detox,” said Aisha Sultan, a columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m not being flippant about the role American Muslims should play about reporting anything dangerous they hear whether in a mosque or anywhere else. We all bear that responsibility. But I’ve never heard anyone talk like that. And, I don’t hear candidates telling white Americans to be on the front lines to fight school shootings.”
Clinton’s rhetoric only serves to heap further blame and suspicion on a community that is already suffering from heightened anti-Muslim bias. According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, hate crimes against Muslims in the US are at the highest levels since the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. That doesn’t include increased reports of harassment in schools and on social media.
The New America Foundation reports that homegrown non-Muslim extremists have killed twice as many people in the US as so-called jihadists. Yet we don’t expect our white or Christian neighbors to serve on the “front lines” to prevent domestic militia attacks, like the plot to kill Muslims in Kansas that was recently thwarted by the FBI. That’s the job of law enforcement.