Election Tuesday: A Break in the Clouds of Islamophobia
by Imraan Siddiqi
On Tuesday night, the stormy skies that many Muslims faced in the political spectrum started to clear up a bit. We saw the defeat of two well-known sitting members of Congress – Allen West (R-FL) and Joe Walsh (R-IL), while a third – Michele Bachmann (R-MN) was taken down to the wire, and eventually prevailed. All three politicians were purveyors of far-flung conspiracy theories involving a purported “Muslim takeover of America” – and all three were huge beneficiaries of Islamophobic money. Along with the more-established candidates, we saw the defeat of a litany of Islamophobic challengers in many congressional races.
One of the most respected Progressive members of congress – Raul Grijalva was being challenged tooth-and-nail by right-wing foe Gabriela Saucedo-Mercer. The challenger was renowned for being an immigrant from Mexico herself – yet harboring what could only be described as shocking set of views toward immigration. In an interview last year, Mercer stated that Middle-Easterners should not be able to migrate to the U.S. – “Either legally, or illegally.” In the same interview, she alluded to the fact that “prayer rugs and Qurans” were found in the Sonoran desert, along with headless bodies – which she seemingly attributed to Middle Easterners or Muslims sneaking through the border. Thankfully for Arizonans – Grijalva was able to retain his seat with ease, defeating Mercer by a wide margin.
The positive trend continued in races across the nation – as Minnesota’s Chip Cravaack and Florida challenger Adam Hasner were all sent packing in their races. So the question is: Is there hope that we will see the level of Islamophobia subside within the American political sphere, specifically in the Republican Party? The reality is, that for years the GOP has given this bigotry sanction, and that the party’s more established members have done almost nothing to speak out against it. On Tuesday, America spoke out against it at the polls.
Since the 2010 mid-term elections – Islam has been used as a wedge issue. Newcomers into the fray – namely among the Tea Party movement made it a specific part of their platform to essentially drum up and create a national panic on Shari’ah Law. Within this theater of the absurd, we saw 78 bills or amendments introduced across 31 states that aimed to thwart the “looming Shari’ah threat.” The well-documented Islamophobia industry now had a foothold in our national and state legislatures – and was only growing in influence.
Within this new overtly Islamophobic set of legislators – Allen West, Joe Walsh and Michele Bachmann stood out as its most unhinged and high profile members. Along with TX Rep Louie Gohmert (who remains in Congress,) the group has focused less upon bring the country forward – and more upon sound bytes (“terror-babies,” anyone?) and divisive rhetoric (Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to take over America.)
This poisonous rhetoric has unfortunately progressed from the dark corners of the GOP, to becoming an actual part of the Party Platform for the Presidential election of 2012. In the past few months, we saw Muslim-Americans who have dedicated their lives to civic duty – such as Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, targeted as being part of a Muslim conspiracy to infiltrate politics – their names smeared, and their careers being put on the line – just for being a Muslim American in the political realm. The echo-chamber of hate in the Islamophobic blogosphere and right-wing media has perpetuated these absurdist conspiracies, questioning the “loyalty” and “patriotism” of American Muslims. What we saw on Tuesday – a rejection of many of those candidates and principles shows a great deal of hope for civically engaged Muslims moving forward.
Applying this same framework to the Presidential election – in some ways I was happier that Obama got re-elected in 2012, than I was in 2008. Policy-wise, I – along with many in the Muslim community have many unresolved issues with how he governed in his first term – namely in the area of drone warfare, civilian casualties caused by said drones, the failure to close Guantanamo, the failure to prosecute torturers and the passage of the NDAA. As we move forward into his second term, Americans will be charged with holding him accountable and scrutinizing him on his promises. These issues will persist forward, but at the very least – the election of Obama speaks well to the fact that America was able to withstand some of the nastiest and most divisive racially charged rhetoric since the Civil Rights Movement.
Obama’s legitimacy as the President has been challenged by many bigots and Islamophobes since his inauguration in 2009. He has been labeled as a “un-American,” a Muslim, a Kenyan, a Socialist – and this was all before he stepped foot inside the White House. The epithets that were lobbied at him prior to governing were merely thinly veiled resistance to having an African-American govern this country. As I have said many times before – they call him ‘Muslim’ because the ‘n-word’ is not socially acceptable anymore. Or is it???
And although the Romney campaign thankfully did not engage in the birtherism and delegitimization of the President’s patriotism – nearly all of the GOP candidates vying for the nominee walked that line. Although Obama hasn’t visited a single mosque – yes a single mosque in his first term – at the very least, he knows what it is like to live under the murky cloud of Islamophobia. And in spite of the upswing in racism, xenophobia, and hate that has engulfed the national conversation – he was still re-elected. From that standpoint, it looks like minorities have a lot to look forward to in our country’s future.
There is a great deal of hope in seeing other traditionally non-represented minorities continue to break through into national politics. The first Hindu was elected into Congress – Tulsi Gabbard, from Hawaii. Mazie Hirono became the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate. Many other minorities are finally seeing their communities find their voice in this election cycle.
The Muslim community has seen its two Congressmen – Keith Ellison and Andre Carson re-elected in landslide victories this past Tuesday – all in spite of the fact that there was a concerted effort by the Islamophobia industry to unseat them. A 3rd potential Muslim – Syed Taj was defeated in his Michigan district, however we see that there is definitely hope for our community’s future in holding and retaining elected office.
As we move on from this contentious election cycle – the hope is that the specter of Islamophobia will slowly dissipate once and for all. Is it gone, with the defeat of West, Walsh and the rest of the crew? Definitely not- however we do see that the amount of money and resources spent on fanning the flames of Islamophobia do not translate into success on the political scale. The hope is that the Bachmann’s and Gohmert’s of the world will move away from their divisive rhetoric (not likely) and focus on the real issues. There are still a great deal of elected officials who harbor anti-Islam sentiment – too many to even name in this article. With that being the case, our community has to replicate its effort from this last election – speak up in condemnation of hate, and remain steadfast and unafraid to speak to truth and justice within the political realm.