If Americans can’t agree on anything else, at least they agree that this presidential race is a disaster, especially the presidential debates. For one they are not presidential at all, and two, they are not even debating. Last Sunday night’s debate set another low standard in US presidential debates. There is one more shot to break this record.
While I was expecting Islam and Muslims to be an issue of debate in the first round, it wasn’t. But in this debate Muslims and Islam were only mentioned in the context of security.
Answering a question of Islamophobia from a Muslim, undecided voter, Trump called the Muslims to speak up against radical Islam. And he accused Secretary Clinton and President Obama for refusing to say “Radical Islamic Terrorism”, arguing that using these words is necessary to tackle the issue of terror. As Islamophobic as he can get, Donald Trump said that there is a problem with Muslims and that he didn’t need to be politically correct with it. He re-instated all the wrong prejudices against Muslims: that they don’t speak up against terrorism; that they need to report other Muslims; that they cannot be trusted; and that they need to be screened and maybe banned from entering the US. A presidential candidate who is proud to not pay taxes, who offends every minority group, who refuses to apologize, and who said it is OK to call his daughter a piece of “a..” on Sunday questioned the values of Muslims, and in particular Syrian refugees. Moreover, he thinks that for refugees to be able to come to the US they just have to book an airplane ticket and they can be a Trojan horse in the Great America.
On the other hand, expecting a more constructive stand by Hillary Clinton, she brought a couple of examples of good Muslims in America: Captain Humayun Khan, a war hero; and Muhammed Ali, a boxing legend. As a security studies student it clicked in my mind: so are Muslims only good to literally fight for America? What about living in America? And then I hear this “we need American Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears, on our frontlines”! I believe there is not much to say afterwards.
But I must give it to Secretary Clinton for acknowledging that Islam is securitized in America. She said, “Unfortunately, there’s been a lot of very divisive, dark things said about Muslims” and that Muslims should feel that they are wanted and included as part of America, with special emphasis on homeland security. But most importantly she said “We [America] are not at war with Islam. And it is a mistake, it plays into the hands of the terrorist to act as though we are”, acknowledging that in US political discourse this has been the case.
One might ask why I am so much concerned with Islam being securitized in US politics. The answer to this question is hidden in the debate on Sunday night. When the debate got heated, and after Donald Trump was consistently pushing Clinton and Obama to use “Radical Islam”, he said that he supports the Assad regime and Putin, because they are fighting ISIS. Clinton, on the other hand, had a policy to put on the table such as arming the Kurds, which, although I don’t support, is a policy that can be considered. What Trump did is play into the hands of ISIS, exactly what the securitization of Islam does. Muslims in Syria are hunted by both: the Assad regime and ISIS. There is no good in those two. In fact, it was the Assad regime that led to the formation of ISIS in the first place, releasing imprisoned al-Qaeda members in order to suppress the protests against him. This rhetoric is dangerous in a declining prestige of US foreign policy and it is very dangerous in US domestic politics.
Well, when debates give you lemons you better make some lemonade. And the Muslim Americans listened to both of the candidates and responded by a trending hashtag #MuslimsReportStuff that got so much traction right after the debate, which made people comment that this hashtag is the best thing that came from this debate. If you want to brighten your mood, check it out.