Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders released a new campaign video April 18 directly addressing anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
Entitled Love Trumps Hate, Sanders argues hatred against Muslims is used in contemporary American political discourse as a sop to distract people from the real problems of wealth inequality and injustice.
He specifically targets Donald Trump in the ad, saying “demagogues like Trump who come along as say ‘I know what the cause of your problem is’.”
“Today it is Muslims, you won’t remember how many years ago we were younger it was the uppity women who were trying to take our jobs as men, it was blacks who wanted to take white jobs that’s what demagoguery is about.”
Sanders is perceived by many as the only candidate in the race addressing concerns that the Muslim community has about rising anti-Muslim bigotry in America. Integration is an important part of the struggle against Islamism and Sanders’ attempts to reach out to the Muslim community are important in promoting that.
Others perceive him as pandering to Islamist apologists. He has met with activists who have spoken out in defense of Muslim Brotherhood affiliate Hamas. The Director of Jews for Bernie, Daniel Sieradski, even praised Hamas, writing “Great insight is to be gained from the remarks of Hamas’ founder, Sheikh Ahemd Yassin, himself, which are much more down-to-earth and pragmatic than any portrayal of Hamas in the right-wing oriented media” according to FrontPage Magazine.
He met with and was endorsed by the head of the Arab-American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour, an organization supported by the Qatar Foundation. The foundation is linked to the Qatari government and the Muslim Brotherhood. Sarsour's brother-in-law is serving a 12-year sentence in an Israeli prison for involvement with Hamas.
Sanders has taken stances to oppose Islamist extremism as well, currently backing a bill which would enable victims of 9/11 to sue the government of Saudi Arabia over the gulf kingdom’s role in the al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center in 2001. All other candidates have also backed the bill, except John Kasich who has not yet commented.
Other candidates have focused specifically on the national-security dimension of Muslim integration.
Senator Ted Cruz recently caused controversy by calling for increased patrols of Muslim-majority areas by law enforcement. In December, Trump called for “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Tackling this issue as either "pro- or anti-Muslim" is shortsighted and counter-productive. Only when we are able to robustly challenge Islamism while, at the same time, opposing anti-Muslim bigotry against ordinary Muslims can both toxic ideas be defeated.
To see what all the candidates are saying about Islamist extremism see our profile on the US Presidential Election 2016.
Elliot Friedland is the Dialogue Coordinator with the Clarion Project.