With the political debates harsher than ever during this primary season, one of the most under-discussed issues is America’s dehumanization of Muslim men and women in the wake of the September 11th attacks, a process started under George W. Bush, continued under Barack Obama, and likely to be extended under the next president.
Conservative politicians have been so repugnant on the topic that their lightest rhetoric involves hate speech and their worst is practically a call for genocide. Perhaps most terrifying has been Iowa caucus winner Ted Cruz calling for precision carpet bombing in Middle Eastern countries, although Donald Trump’s pledge to prevent Muslims from entering the United States is a close second. Few, if any, of the Republicans currently running in the primary have a Middle Eastern policy that seems to border on, or outright embrace, war crimes.
The Republican party has also been downright hateful towards Syrian refugees, an action that goes against the religion they profess to hold. Jeb Bush’s call to prioritize Christian refugees is a stunning display of the dehumanization of Muslims.
Yet disappointingly liberal politicians have not been innocent either, often trying to have it both ways with the Muslim community and it is here that criticism must be leveled because of the two prominent parties in America, the Democrats are our best hope for reducing the assault on the personhood of Muslims.
Barack Obama recently visited a Mosque, the first president to do so (and conservatives treated this with the tact and nuance that has come to be expected of them), and his comments were emblematic of how even supposedly enlightened Democrats are hypocritical when it comes to the treatment of Muslims. In his speech, he spoke out against some of the violence Americans have shown towards Muslims in the United States, violence that has been increased thanks to bigotry coming from some of the Republican primary candidates, especially Trump and Cruz, yet there is a large dosage of hypocrisy here. During Obama’s administration, he has repeatedly said Muslims are not the enemy while continuing the failed imperialist policies of the Bush administration and increasing the drone strikes in the Middle East, many of which kill innocent Muslims and create more radical extremists. During his speech in the Mosque, Obama also called for television shows to cease portraying Muslims as only terrorists. What a remarkable statement! The sheer audacity it takes to complain about the portrayal of Muslims in television shows while regularly bombarding parts of the Middle East with the excuse that it is a necessary action to prevent terrorism is off the charts. Talk about a “Do as I say, not as I do” moment.
The Obama administration has also painted innocent Muslims killed in drone strikes as terrorists. This is regular practice despite the fact that they often don’t know who they are killing. The administration does not want to admit this, with the president claiming there are very few civilian casualties in such strikes. The policy is to assume all casualties are terrorists unless proven otherwise. How convenient.
Sadly, the Democratic establishment does not seem interested in changing this reality. The establishment candidate, and the living embodiment of bourgeois feminism, Hillary Clinton, has repeatedly claimed during the 2016 primary that she is a progressive and the candidate for women. Her surrogates have claimed that Clinton has done more for women worldwide than anyone else. When it comes to American foreign policy in respect to Muslims, this could not be further from the truth. Clinton’s vote for the Iraq War is often cited as proof that she is too hawkish. One need not rely on that vote for proof, however; she has made it clear since then that she is intent on continuing a neoconservative foreign policy and her recent calls for military escalation in Libya and Syria show she’s learned nothing from the failure of the Iraq War. The death toll thanks to the intervention Clinton has pushed and voted for has been so high that it becomes difficult for Americans to comprehend on an emotional level, making it easy to ignore the human cost. When one is told that hundreds of thousands have died thanks to the Iraq War it is tough to fully comprehend just how much slaughter that is.
Clinton still advocating for an increase in hostilities will result in more civilian deaths, no question; these deaths will includes the deaths of innocent Muslim women despite Clinton’s claim of being the candidate for women- yet another layer of hypocrisy from the current liberal establishment. Clinton’s immoral position has received little mainstream liberal push-back and this is not surprising as the United States has done an excellent job at making the public shrug when it comes to the deaths of Muslims. Consider that the United States has constantly argued its intervention in Muslim countries is not just for self-defense but also a moral necessity. This immediately frames the intervention as a gift to the Middle East despite its disastrous effect. Since 1980, America has bombed 14 (14!) Muslim countries. Surely no can seriously argue that this has made the Middle East a safer place. For Obama and Clinton to frame further intervention as beneficial to Muslims is a moral crime. The message here is clear: in order for a safer world, we will have to put up with the deaths of more innocent Muslims. For no other group of people are we asked to make such a moral compromise.
A perfect example of the moral betrayal shown by Clinton was her statement on Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s death and America’s intervention in Libya in general: “We came, we saw, he died.” This is quite the take on American imperialism in the Middle East. Libya still struggles, but the fact that America killed a target makes it a moral victory. Even more disconcerting is the celebration over Qaddafi’s death. Qaddafi was a repulsive, murderous man and it is difficult to find much sympathy for him. However, before dying he was brutally sodomized by a bayonet. This is a war crime and continues the long history of rape during times of war; it is not something to laugh about. The fact that Qaddafi was evil does not mitigate the horror of the crime because it allows the age old narrative to stay the same: sodomizing captured enemies is an acceptable tactic. Considering how many innocent women are raped during times of war, the fact that a self-proclaimed feminist would find this a laughing matter is appalling. The only way to still believe Clinton’s feminist and progressive credentials is to believe that Muslim lives, be it of innocents or non-United States supported dictators, are worth less than the lives of others that the United States deems more worthy (it’s worth noting that it does include some Muslims as worthy: Saudi Arabian leaders who are as morally vacant as many of the United States’ enemies).
The best choice in terms of foreign intervention is the only progressive candidate in the 2016 primary: Bernie Sanders. Sanders has endorsed having a coalition led by Muslim countries attempt to end the threat of ISIS and for the United States to avoid military intervention. His policy is dramatically less neoconservative than Clinton’s. Still, even Sanders falls into some of the traps that have plagued the Obama administration. He has stated that he will not cease the use of Obama’s drone program but promises to use it more carefully. What this means is unclear. Obama would no doubt offer the rebuttal that he already uses it carefully yet the facts disagree. Under what circumstances would Sanders judge the use of drones acceptable? By not giving a concrete answer he leaves himself quite a bit of latitude to continue drone killings that slaughter innocent civilians. After all, moving to the right after becoming president is not without precedent. Obama, after citing hope and change, promised much more transparency than he ever delivered.
Right now, the Democratic party is the only one in which even an iota of hope can be placed about ending America’s dehumanization of Muslim’s worldwide. Considering how far the party is falling short of this it becomes imperative that during the primary the issue is pushed and push consistently. If liberals and progressives don’t make it clear that they will no longer allow innocent Muslims to be killed by the thousands then there is nothing to suggest that these policies will be ended by their candidates anytime soon.
Donald McCarthy is a teacher and writer. His fiction has appeared with KZine, Cover of Darkness, and The Washington Pastime. His non-fiction has been featured in The Progressive Populist, Screen Spy, and AOL Patch News. And here, too, but that was probably obvious. His twitter is @donaldtmccarthy and his website is donaldmccarthy.com