The Muslim voter who asked the presidential candidates in Sunday night’s debate how they would combat the rise of Islamophobia in the U.S. said she preferred Hillary Clinton’s answer over Donald Trump’s ― but remains undecided as to whom she’ll vote for on Election Day.
“[Trump’s] wasn’t an answer, actually, it was kind of like an accusation,” 31-year-old Gorbah Hamed told The Huffington Post in a phone interview after the debate.
“Hillary’s answer was better,” said Hamed ― but she didn’t offer much praise of the Democratic nominee either. “I’m trying to be hopeful. I just hope that Muslims like me are represented well and not made out to be the bad guy.”
Hamed was born in the U.S. and spent most of her life in St. Charles, Missouri, but relocated across the river to Illinois a couple of years ago. She has two boys ― ages 4 and 9 ― and she just wants to live in a world where she and her family don’t get looked at differently.
“I want them to be proud to be Muslim,” Hamed said, referring to her children. “The reason we live in this country ... is because we have freedom of religion, and no one is going to tell us what to worship and how to worship.”
Hamed said her own experiences with Islamophobia are more subtle than the violent attacks against some Muslims that have increasingly made headlines in the past year. But she felt that wearing a hijab to job interviews limited her success and no longer wears the veil. She and her husband now own a convenience store in Belleville, Illinois.
During the second presidential debate on Sunday night, Hamed was one of a handful of undecided voters selected to question the candidates.
“There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States, and I’m one of them,” said Hamed, who is of Palestinian descent. “You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations, but with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?”
In his response, Trump suggested that Muslims themselves bear the responsibility to combat Islamophobia by reporting each other for suspicious activity. He repeated a past lie about how “many people saw the bombs all over the apartment” of the perpetrators of the San Bernardino, California, terror attack but failed to act.
“Muslims have to report the problems when they see them,” Trump said. “There’s always a reason for everything,” he continued. “If they don’t do that, it’s a very difficult situation for our country, because you look at Orlando and you look at San Bernardino and you look at the World Trade Center. Go outside. Look at Paris. Look at that horrible — these are radical Islamic terrorists.”
When it was Clinton’s turn to answer, she took aim at Trump lashing out at a Muslim Gold Star family and using rhetoric about Muslims that “is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists.”
“My vision of America is an America where everyone has a place if you are willing to work hard, you do your part, you contribute to the community. That’s what America is,” Clinton said. But she, too, later drifted into suggesting that the role of Muslims in the U.S. is to help fight terrorism. “We need American Muslims to be our eyes and ears on the front lines,” she said as part of her response.
When asked if she was really an undecided voter ― people on Twitter had a hard time believing a female Muslim could even be considering Trump ― Hamed insisted that she is. She says she’s not registered as a Democrat or a Republican and doesn’t typically vote for one party over the other. “I don’t feel like there’s a candidate who represents me and my views and my beliefs,” she said Sunday.
As a voter of Palestinian descent, one of the reasons she can’t get behind Clinton is because “Hillary stands solely with Israel.”
Both candidates, Hamed said, “have a disregard to Palestinians and the human rights violations that Israel is doing on a daily basis.” Audience members in Sunday’s debate were told to prepare two questions; Hamed’s second question was about U.S. aid to Israel.
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Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.