Hillary Clinton And American Muslims: A Relationship Two Decades In The Making

As an American Muslim and a lifelong Democratic voter, I fell hard for the rising star of Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, and I started the Muslims for Obama online campaign to help recruit my fellow Muslims to join his campaign. It wasn’t that I had anything against Hillary Clinton - she had been familiar to the Muslim community in which I grew up because she was one of the earliest political figures to reach out to it - but the appeal of the Obama campaign was too much to resist.

Fast forward to after the election, and Hillary has long since patched up her differences with President Obama and has accepted the honor of being our Secretary of State. I watched her from afar as she created policy frameworks guided by Obama’s famous 2009 Cairo speech, where he promised a new beginning with the Muslim world. As someone who was inspired by that speech, I held Secretary Clinton to a high standard in her execution of that vision over the following year, even writing at one point an article for the Guardian entitled “Hillary Clinton disappoints the Muslim world”.

A few months after that piece was published, something remarkable happened: I was recruited to join the Clinton State Department as a senior advisor, focusing on empowering Muslim youth communities around the world.

What kind of person would accommodate in her administration a critic like me and allow me to help address the very things I was criticizing her for? Well, it turns out I didn’t know Secretary Clinton as well as I should have. In the following two years, I saw someone who faced the near-impossible task of squaring endless circles of interest in the pursuit of global diplomacy, and who genuinely believed in bringing diverse voices together to help get the job done. I felt empowered and free to bring about new initiatives, experiment with social media and diplomacy, and saw my Muslim identity repeatedly honored and respected.

I also saw a continuation of what I had noticed back when Hillary was first lady - a person who time and again found opportunities to include American Muslims in the structure of governance and who saw the talent from our communities as an valuable asset. During my tenure at State, I counted over a dozen talented American Muslims being tapped to serve in various capacities in Hillary’s State Department, all of whom served admirably and more than justified her faith in them, including Special Representative to Muslim Communities Farah Pandith, Special Adviser on Global Youth Issues Zeenat Rahman, and of course her long-serving top aide Huma Abedin.

As far as I can tell, no politician has brought more American Muslims into the machinery of government than Hillary Clinton, covering a span of decades and including representation at the highest levels. Only President Obama comes close.

Fast forward to the 2016 presidential elections, and Hillary Clinton hasn’t wavered from her defense of American Muslims in the public square. It would be easy for her campaign to avoid Muslim voters or push them to the side (judging by Donald Trump’s success in generating support around his demonizing of American Muslims), but she has made the defense of Muslims in the public square one of the cornerstones of her campaign. From highlighting Muslims in her campaign ads, to speaking out against anti-Muslim sentiment, to noting the achievements of American Muslims representing America, to celebrating Muslim involvement in the political process, to showcasing notable American Muslim scholars, entertainers, and social entrepreneurs front and center hours before accepting the Democratic nomination for President (including Gold Star parents Khizr and Ghazala Khan), Hillary has staked her political career on our inclusion and acceptance. And far from running from the Muslim voter as too many politicians are doing, Hillary is aggressively courting Muslim voters as a key part of her electoral strategy.

And as far as we can tell, American Muslims have overwhelmingly returned the favor. In a March 2016 poll by CAIR during the Democratic primaries, 47% of American Muslims supported Hillary with another 25% supporting Bernie Sanders. Assuming American Muslim Bernie supporters back Hillary in the same percentages (85% according to this poll) as the population as a whole, that means close to 70% of American Muslim voters are likely planning to vote for Hillary Clinton in November. With hundreds of thousands of registered voters - many of whom live in swing states with perilously close polling numbers - American Muslims appear to be ready to give her the boost she needs, and to give Trump the most authoritative counterpoint to his narrative of a feckless, dangerous, and un-American Muslim citizenry.

I know there are many Americans, Muslims among them, who still struggle with a decision to back Hillary. I know how you feel - remember, I was once a critic too. To those people, whose positions I respect, I say that the short game - supporting or opposing politicians based on temporal positions on issues - is less preferable than the long game - supporting those who work to embed your community permanently in the structures of government and as equal partners with other citizens.

Since the days of 9/11, both American Muslims and their neighbors have worked together to create a more prosperous, integrated, included, and vibrant community. The America that Hillary Clinton wants to protect is one in which American Muslims are more visible in our public spaces, more represented in the halls of governance, more established in their institutions (the number of US mosques has doubled in the last 15 years), and are giving back to their country through social services, participation in our military, and through sports & entertainment. What Donald Trump represents is a halt to that progress - a model that the world desperately needs to see and emulate - and we can’t let that happen.

As election day approaches, we see two clear choices. One ticket spares no effort to exclude and demonize Muslims, and the other doubles down on a commitment to our rights as Americans. I’m glad that the Clinton State Department took a chance on a skeptic like me, and I hope that those who remain skeptical of Hillary look at her record of inclusion and commitment to defend our basic rights, and extend her that same opportunity.

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