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Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?

At a news conference on Tuesday, I asked Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and André Carson (D-Ind.) about Hillary Clinton’s having returned money from Muslims and refusing to meet with Arab and Muslim groups in her 2000 Senate run.

Rep. Ellison indicated he didn’t know about the controversy and — while stressing his backing for Sen. Bernie Sanders, argued that Clinton was someone who has done outreach to the Muslim community. Carson lauded her as the “most traveled” secretary of state.

Ellison and Carson, Congress’ only Muslim members, spoke at the at National Press Club to discuss “Islamophobia and Hateful Rhetoric Directed At Muslims.” [See video of their response, full video (33:00) and transcript below.]

Their opening remarks focused on Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, Newt Gingrich, Peter King — all Republicans.

I had gone into the event wanting to question the manner in which they spoke — or declined to speak — about U.S. foreign policy. More on that later.

But, their emphasis on Republican transgressions, some going back to previous election cycles, I thought it important to raise the issue of Clinton’s actions and asked if there wasn’t anti-Muslim sentiment in the Democratic Party as well.

I cited a recent piece by Rania Khalek, in which she writes:

Back in 2000, during a heated U.S. Senate race in New York, Clinton came under attack for accepting political contributions from Muslim groups whose members were targets of a smear campaign generated by one of the Islamophobia industry’s most discredited operatives.

Without hesitation, Clinton condemned her Muslim supporters, returned their donations and refused to meet with Arab and Muslim Americans for the remainder of her campaign…

Ellison said: “I’m not aware of the incident. … When she came to Minnesota she specifically reached out to the Muslim community and had a sit down and talked about anti-Muslim hate. … I also know that years ago when she was Secretary of State, the Black Caucus had a meeting with her and she had recently appointed a special envoy to Muslim communities, you know — Farah Pandith — and she sat Andre and I right next to Farah because she wanted to make sure we were talking and comparing notes.”

Presuming he was being forthright, it says something about Ellison’s information flow that he would not have been aware of the controversy.

He mentioned Farah Pandith. According to her bio at the Kennedy School of Government, “Special Representative Pandith served as the Director for Middle East Regional Initiatives for the National Security Council from December 2004 to February 2007, where she was responsible for coordinating U.S. policy on ‘Muslim World’ Outreach and the Broader Middle East North Africa initiative.”

Pandith reported to Elliot Abrams at the Bush National Security Council, who is well known for his longtime backing of U.S. wars in the Mideast and Latin America.

Ellison stated that Clinton has “not in any way contributed to anti-Muslim hate. In fact Huma Abedin is one of her closest aides and Huma has been the target of anti-Muslim hate herself.”

Ellison’s defense of Clinton — and by extension the Democratic Party, since I specifically asked about that, was noteworthy. At another point in the event, he talked about how every community was guilty of bigotry to some extent.

Carson, who supports Clinton over Sanders, stated that while Clinton was recently in Indianapolis, “We helped to ensure that Muslims were not only there, they were part of the process. And there were a group of Syrian-Americans who had a moment with Secretary Clinton. … She is the most traveled Secretary of state in U.S. history. … Whenever I go to embassies that have Muslim ambassadors they talk about the bridge building that was done under her leadership as Secretary of State. … [Clinton] has a special sensitivity as it relates to issues impacting the Muslim community. As it relates to unwanted surveillance … Once she becomes president you will see Muslims in very important positions in her cabinet.”

It seems at best incredibly paltry: “Part of the process.” Syrian-Americans “had a moment.” “A moment” to discuss the fate of their country of origin. Which Syrian-Americans? Doubtlessly, there are some who want more U.S. intervention of the sort that brought disaster to Libya — which Clinton oversaw and Ellison himself backed at the time. Glen Ford has noted that Ellison has also backed a “no fly” zone in Syria.

Though she’s at times criticized Republicans for scapegoating Muslims, CNN reported: “Clinton calls for more surveillance, police after Brussels attacks.”

I actually asked the first question after their opening remarks. I had hoped that I’d get another question later about U.S. foreign policy after they had staked out their positions on foreign policy in response to other questions. However, I did not get another question in.

The deeper issue is the manner in which the question of “Islamophobia” is being dealt with: It largely excludes discussion of U.S. foreign policy, the dehumanization of Muslim lives lost, especially in U.S. attacks.

At the event, Ellison stressed that most of the victims of Daesh [ISIL] were Muslims, which is of course true, but it leaves out that most of the victims of U.S. foreign policy are Muslims — and that U.S. foreign policy has helped foster Al-Qaeda and ISIS and other sectarian groups.

You have Carson talking about how Muslim officials in embassies — almost invariably of tyrannical regimes — speak fondly of Clinton. This seems at best a dubious badge of honor.

Rep. Carson spoke in his other remarks of being on the House Intelligence Committee. He also spoke of his time growing up and being critical of law enforcement. I’ve crited anti-Muslim bias for over twenty years, but a tacit bargain seems to have been struck whereby Muslims are “tolerated” — so long as they do not seriously critique U.S. foreign policy, and those who go along with it most will clearly be rewarded most by those who control U.S. foreign policy. Indeed, the subtext of some of Carson’s remarks is that such Muslims will be rewarded with plum positions for their apologetics.

The tension here is critical. While some who have written about Islamophobia see a meaningful resolution in incorporation of Muslims into the West, this tends to ignore the incredible violence of U.S. foreign policy. For example, John Feffer, who I know and like personally, recently wrote “Sadiq Khan and the End of Islamophobia” about the recent mayoral race in London.

There is real danger of a line of thinking in effect charts a course of Muslims being accepted in the West in a manner that neuters any meaningful crit of foreign policy. It’s a course that explicitly or implicitly folds in the Muslim community rather than using it as a messenger to meaningful open up the Western societies in terms of challenging and ending their aggressive foreign policies and bring about a more peaceful world.

In fact, this course is incredibly dangerous because it leads to the impression of having a global dialogue when none is actually taking place about the most critical issues of U.S. government violence.

As Arun Kundnani has argued: “The promise of the ‘war on terror’ was that we would kill them ‘over there’ so they would not kill us ‘over here.’ Hence mass violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Yemen, and Somalia — in the name of peace in the West. The ‘Authorization to Use Military Force’ that the U.S. Congress passed in the days after 9/11 already defined the whole world as a battlefield in the ‘war on terror’. President Obama continues to rely on the authorization to give his drone-killing program a veneer of legality. This is the old colonial formula of liberal values at home sustained by a hidden illiberalism in the periphery — where routine extra-judicial killing is normalized.”

The remarks of Malcolm X — whose birthday just passed — and his view of the course of African Americans in the U.S. is relevant: “They have a new gimmick every year. They’re going to take one of their boys, black boys, and put him in the cabinet so he can walk around Washington with a cigar. Fire on one end and fool on the other end. And because his immediate personal problem will have been solved he will be the one to tell our people: ‘Look how much progress we’re making. I’m in Washington, D.C., I can have tea in the White House. I’m your spokesman, I’m your leader.’ While our people are still living in Harlem in the slums. Still receiving the worst form of education.”

Transcript: 

Sam Husseini: You’ve mentioned Trump and Cruz and Carson. I think all the names that you mentioned are Republicans that you feel are guilty of soem form of Islamophobia. Rania Khalek, an Arab-American writer recently had a piece recounting that in her 2000 run, Hillary Clinton — after there were allegations that she was taking quote-unquote Muslim money — returned the money and refused to meet with members of the Muslim-American and Arab community. How do you respond to something like that? Is the Democratic party itself clear of Islamophobic sentiment as well?

Keith Ellison: I can only speak on what I know about — and I’m a Bernie supporter. And I support Bernie running all the way through the election. And — but have to be honest and tell you I’m not aware of that, right?

Husseini: You don’t know about this?

Ellison: Well I’m not aware of the incident. I’ll tell you what I’m aware of I know that when she came to Minneapolis, Minnesota — and this is just being fair and honest. When she came to Minnesota she specifically reached out to the Muslim community and had a sit down and talked about anti-Muslim hate. I know about that.

I also know that years ago when she was Secretary of State, the black caucus had a meeting with her and she had recently appointed a special envoy to Muslim communities, you know — Farah Pandith — and she sat Andre and I right next to Farah because she wanted to make sure we were talking and comparing notes.

Now, I don’t want to say something didn’t happen when I don’t know — when I don’t have information. But I can say that if that did happen there’s weight with her reaching out as well.

Again, I’m not trying to discredit anyone’s experience, I don’t have any information on it. But I can tell you she did some things and has not in any way contributed to anti-Muslim hate. In fact Huma Abedin is one of her closest aides and Huma has been the target of anti-Muslim hate herself and I have never sensed that Secretary Clinton is backing herself away from her association with Huma Abedin. So.

Again, I’m a Bernie guy. I’m standing up there — if you wanna talk who should be president I believe it’s Bernie Sanders, but fair’s fair and true’s true and she has no record that I’m aware of of anti-Muslim hate.

Andre Carson: As a Clinton guy (laughter)

Ellison: Did I mention that —?

Carson: Ask Keith stated, one of her chief advisers and closest confidants is Huma Abedin who is phenomenal. She’s a friend of mine. Secretary Clinton was in Indianapolis a few weeks ago. We helped to ensure that Muslims were not only there, they were part of the process. And there were a group of Syrian-Americans who had a moment with Secretary Clinton. If you look at her history as not only as first lady of Arkansas but first lady of the United States of America, and even Secretary of State. She is the most traveled Secretary of state in U.S. history. Let’s make that clear.

Whenever I go to embassies that have Muslim ambassadors they talk about the bridge building that was done under her leadership as Secretary of State. When I go to Muslim communities across the country and communities are divided — some are Feeling the Bern and some like me are climbing up that Hill. But they respect Secretary Clinton because she has a special sensitivity as it relates to issues impacting the Muslim community. As it relates to unwanted surveillance as it relates to outright discrimination. And I believe and we can talk about this later, that once she becomes president you will see Muslims in very important positions in her cabinet.

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Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

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