Now that you're listening, Mr Biden, here's what Muslim Americans would like

Now that you're listening, Mr Biden, here's what Muslim Americans would like
Comment: It's easy for Biden oppose Trump's racist rhetoric, but the real test lies in whether he can meaningfully engage with the Muslim American community, writes Mobashra Tazamal.
5 min read
04 Aug, 2020
'The bar is pretty low in terms of engagement with Muslim Americans' writes Tazamal [Getty]
"I want to earn your vote, not just because he's [Trump] not worthy of being president... You deserve to have a president and an administration who'll work with you and support you in these efforts, not try to scapegoat your communities or advance xenophobic political agenda on the back of Muslim communities."

These were the words of Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, as he addressed Muslim Americans during a virtual summit on July 20th. The "Million Muslim Votes" event held by Emgage Action, a Muslim American advocacy group, aimed to increase Muslim turnout in the November elections. 

Biden's address took a drastically different tone from the commonplace rhetoric of the past few presidential elections. Whereas in prior campaigns presidential candidates talked about or talked to Muslim Americans, and only in the context of national security, the former Vice President engaged with this diverse community and addressed numerous issues of concern - primarily the mainstreaming of Islamophobia. 

The election of Donald Trump ushered in a wave of open hostility and discriminatory policies targeting the country's marginalised communities. From the Muslim and African bans to the hollowing out of the American immigration system to the platforming of white nationalism, Black people and people of colour have been on the receiving end of particularly hateful rhetoric from the Commander-in-Chief.

Biden's campaign should take a look at a recent statement by a coalition of Muslim delegates to the Democratic National Committee (DNC)

During the past four years, there's been a drastic increase in hate crimes and harassment targeting minority communities, with many of the assailants shouting Trump's name or repeating his catchphrases like "build the wall!" during their attacks. 

However, Islamophobia predates the Trump administration. Muslim Americans have long been on the receiving end of the government's discriminatory policies (from COINTELPRO during the civil rights era to today's Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programmes), but this has been expanding in the years since 9/11.

In response, the government ratcheted up its 
surveillance and criminalisation of the minority community, as the media supported these actions by framing Muslim Americans as a constant threat and questioned the community's loyalty. What Donald Trump's election did was mainstream these accusations and beliefs and instrumentalised them to garner public support for blatantly racist and Islamophobic policies.

So for Biden, the bar is pretty low in terms of engagement with Muslim Americans. In the past couple of presidential elections, Democratic presidential nominees failed to acknowledge the concerns of the community. Instead, they too employed Islamophobia, stigmatising the community as they only spoke about them in the context of terrorism.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton 
called on Muslim Americans to be "part of our eyes and ears on our front lines," and said the US needs "to work with American Muslim communities who are on the front lines to identify and prevent attacks." Further, many of Trump's calls that explicitly targeted Muslim Americans, such as floating the idea of Muslim registry and renaming CVE to "Countering Radical Islam or Countering Violent Jihad," built upon policies from previous administrations. All Trump did was remove the neutral terms and make the implicit objective of criminalising Muslims, explicit.

Read more: Stephen Miller goes on a mission to make America white again

At this point, it's nearly impossible to not call out Trump's openly racist attitude towards Muslim Americans. While Biden's recent message to the 3.45 million Muslim Americans rightfully acknowledges how the Trump administration has scapegoated the community, it fell short of providing solutions as to how the former VP plans to tackle the structural and institutional Islamophobia that has existed long before Trump. 

Biden has also failed to acknowledge his own past record in supporting anti-Muslim policies - CVE was created and drone warfare was vastly expanded under the administration of former president, Barack Obama.

In an effort to address this, Biden's campaign should take a look at a recent statement by a coalition of Muslim delegates to the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The statement includes a wide array of asks from domestic to foreign policy that aim to tackle state-led Islamophobia.

These include, among many other things, an overhaul to the broken criminal justice system, 
dismantling of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), shutting down Guantanamo Bay prison, ending CVE, ending the Global War on Terror, and speaking out against China's genocide against Uighur Muslims.

A decade ago, such policy demands would have been unheard of not because Muslim Americans weren't calling for them, but because the establishment simply refused to listen or view these issues as problems. The changes in attitudes can be attributed to both the ongoing grassroots community-led work pushing those in power to address such concerns, as well as the openly racist and blatantly anti-Muslim platform of Donald Trump.

The Democratic party must make it clear that its candidate is campaigning beyond the 'anyone but Trump' platform

The Trump administration's actions have forced the Democratic party to reassess its approach to Muslim Americans, and has ushered in a more progressive agenda, represented in the positions of Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Today, it's simply unacceptable to remain silent about Islamophobia. 

While it certainly should not have taken the harmful rhetoric and policies of the Trump administration to get politicians to recognise and speak out about anti-Muslim racism, Biden's campaign is a foot in the right direction, and the hope is that we will move towards more inspiring, inclusive, and progressive candidates. It's never too late to rightfully address the dangerously hostile environment created by those in power, and we can certainly do better.

While Biden actively courts Muslim Americans, an important constituency given they could be the deciding vote in a number of 
key swing states, the Democratic party must make it clear that its candidate is campaigning beyond the "anyone but Trump" platform.

Candidates who want to engage with Muslim Americans must be committed to listening to the community, and not employ the nation's 3.45 million as pawns in the game of politics. Given the circumstances, it's easy for the Democratic party to position itself as anti-Trump, but to truly enact change and uphold democratic values, Biden must better address the concerns of the community head-on.

Mobashra Tazamal is a researcher on Islamophobia at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah.

Follow her on Twitter:@mobbiemobes

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.