Many Muslim Americans cringe at the way they have been portrayed by candidates during the presidential campaign either as potential terrorists or as eyes and ears who can help the government’s counterterrorism efforts.
Those descriptions, offered by Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, respectively, are troubling to Muslims who complain they are being pigeonholed and their concerns on other issues ignored.
“I think that there is some level of dismissiveness about Arab-Americans and American Muslims that allows candidates to talk about us, not really to us,” said Omar Baddar, a political analyst and media producer based in Washington.
Chaumtoli Huq, a lawyer from the New York City suburb of Yonkers, agreed. “We’re not able to talk about issues that impact us as citizens – education, jobs, things that any other voter would care about,” she said. “It’s a really demoralising way to be seen to be part of this country.”
One of the campaign’s more memorable moments for Muslim Americans unfolded at the Democratic National Convention in July, when a grieving Khizr Khan addressed delegates about his son, Humayun, an American soldier who was killed in Iraq. The Republican candidate soon pushed back against Khan’s anti- Trump comments, setting up an almost unprecedented episode in which a presidential nominee criticised a military family that lost a loved one in a war zone.
Huq and others said Trump’s campaign has clearly been the more negative one, starting with his call to ban foreign Muslims from entering the US as an anti-terrorism measure.
In the second presidential debate in St. Louis, Trump answered a question about how to stop Islamophobia in America by saying American Muslims must report other Muslims who are engaging in dangerous behavior. He also repeated the false claim that neighbors of the San Bernardino, California, shooters saw bombs all over the floor in the shooters’ home last year but did not report it.
That led to a widely retweeted comment from Brooklyn College professor Moustafa Bayoumi, who posted, “I’m a Muslim, and I would like to report a crazy man threatening a woman on a stage in Missouri.” By the time the debate ended, his retort had been retweeted more than 32,000 times and “liked” more than 43,000 times.
Speaking to The Associated Press, Bayoumi said Muslim Americans “get exceptionalised to such a degree that their average Americanness disappears in the wind.”
But Hillary Clinton did not escape censure from Muslim Americans, who said that the Democratic nominee’s public remarks have primarily revolved around recognising them for what they could do to support counterterrorism efforts.