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Former President Bill Clinton spoke for 45 minutes on Tuesday night about his wife, Hillary Clinton. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

Bill Clinton Draws Flak for 'Trumpish' Comments on American Muslims

'Unfortunately, he framed his arguments within the same parameters of the Islamophobic discourse employed by Trump which treats Muslims as unwelcome foreigners.'

Deirdre Fulton

Former President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on Tuesday night, largely focused on humanizing his wife, is drawing criticism for its characterization of American Muslims.

"If you're a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together, we want you," Clinton said toward the end of his address. 

But as Peter Beinart, contributing editor for The Atlantic, wrote late Tuesday night: "The problem is in the assumption. American Muslims should be viewed exactly the same way other Americans are. If they commit crimes, then they should be prosecuted, just like other Americans. But they should not have to prove that they 'love America and freedom' and 'hate terror' to 'stay here.' Their value as Americans is inherent, not instrumental. Their role as Americans is not to 'help us win' the 'war on terror.'"

Beinart continued, "Whether Clinton meant to or not, he lapsed into Trumpism: the implication that Muslims are a class apart, deserving of special scrutiny and surveillance, guilty of terrorist sympathies until proven innocent."

Dr. Muqtedar Khan, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware, responded to Clinton's remarks in a piece for The Islamic Monthly:

No doubt he intended to convey to Muslims, and the rest of America, the contrast between Donald Trump’s exclusivist, neofascist attitude towards Muslims, and Hillary Clinton's progressive, supportive and inclusive stance towards all minorities including American Muslims, but the one line that mentioned Muslims may have fallen far too short, and even dangerous in repeating the same patterns as other Islamophobes during this election cycle. The former wishes to ban us, and the latter…well this may be the issue I'm struggling with. The message stated by Clinton is we, American Muslims, can stay here if we love America and freedom and hate terrorism. How generous!

The implication of his statement is that American Muslims are trying to leave, and he is urging us to stay. And yet, American Muslims have been here for centuries now. Many of the slaves who built this country were Muslims forced to hide or leave their faith. Secondly, why the conditions? And why only while speaking about Muslims would he mention the word terror? 

[...] The problem with the semantics of what Clinton said in his speech is that it borrows the Islamophobic assumptions that have plagued American political arena in the past several months. This was a good opportunity for Bill to push back against it and shift the conversation. Unfortunately, he framed his arguments within the same parameters of the Islamophobic discourse employed by Trump which treats Muslims as unwelcome foreigners.

"Let's hope that Hillary Clinton can include Muslims in her speech tomorrow that does not fall in to the same semantic traps as others during this election season," Khan wrote. 

Users on Twitter expressed similar reservations:

And Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)'s Chicago branch, wrote on Facebook:

I appreciate Bill Clinton affirming that Muslims oppose terrorism. We do. We do. Thank you. But I do dream of a day when Muslims are mentioned outside of the context of terrorism and in the contexts that we live in daily. For example in a discussion about health care. Muslims are 1% of the US population and 10% of its doctors. That is a 1000% overrepresentation. If one had to "stereotype" Muslims based on lop-sided data, it would be that "Muslims are doctors."

Meanwhile, MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said she found Clinton's opening lines "shocking and weird."

"A+ for the end of the speech," she said. "But I think the beginning of the speech was a controversial way to start, honestly. Talking about 'the girl,' 'a girl.' Leading with this long story about him being attracted to an unnamed girl."

"Building her whole political story for the whole first half of the speech around her marriage to him," Maddow continued. "Unless there were worries that this was going to be too feminist a convention, that was not a feminist way to start. But the end of the speech was really good."


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