Why Is Bernie Sanders So Silent On Hate Toward Muslims?

Election '16

This week, America witnessed a series of events that highlight how much of the country feels about Muslims. Teenager Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school that school officials ridiculously believed was a bomb. Then, we saw a GOP debate where no candidates condemned the arrest, with speakers spending more time conflating the teenager with terrorists overseas than calling school officials and the police to account. Finally, we witnessed a horrifying moment when a GOP voter asked frontrunner Donald Trump how he would get rid of Muslims he claimed were building military camps and had even recruited the president of the United States. Trump actually promised to look into these absurd claims.

Perhaps the hate grew too intense, because parts of the Democratic Party actually responded to it. President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House, and Hillary Clinton fired off a few tweets condemning Ahmed’s treatment and Trump’s remarks. 

You would think that insurgent progressive candidate Bernie Sanders would be the one to speak up for the plight of Muslims. He is, after all, a genuinely anti-establishment figure with a strong history of supporting civil rights. But if Bernie Sanders even noticed this week’s spree of anti-Muslim hatred, he isn’t showing it. He didn’t offer any invitations to his Senate office, or deliver any tweets. He rarely speaks about Islamophobia on the campaign trail, and foreign policy merits barely a mention in his speeches. 

When he does talk about Islam, it comes off as clumsy and ill-prepared, as if the senator has no knowledegable advisors on Islam or foreign policy. An oft-repeated line of his is that ISIS is in a “battle for the soul of Islam” — but he fails to explain how a group that only has a fraction of the territory of Syria and Iraq, two countries that make up less than 3 percent of the global Muslim population, is somehow capable of defining Islam. His ideas for combating ISIS involve pushing Saudi Arabia to get more militarily involved, ignoring the fact that the Saudi military is currently pummeling Yemen into dust, thereby increasing extremism, not reducing it. His own spokesperson has more or less denied that the senator ever called for reducing military aid to Israel, despite the fact that he did it just a few weeks ago in a Vox interview.

If Sanders is trying to appeal to the concerns of Muslim Americans at all, it does not show. This is especially important in light of the fact that the senator has been hurting with black voters, and there are hundreds of thousands of black Muslims who are not being talked to at all by the political establishment.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Sanders could draw on his own history as the son of Holocaust survivors, and point to the historical similarities between antisemitism and Islamophobia. He could deliver a major speech in Dearborn, Mich. calling for a reset of U.S. foreign policy to take into consideration the welfare of Muslims abroad caught up in our wars, and rally the Jewish and Muslim communities to stand together against hate, and for a more balanced Israel-Palestine policy. He could stop fumbling when asked about the number of Syrian refugees the U.S. should take.

All of this is possible, and in a Democratic primary where Sanders needs every progressive, pro-civil rights vote to defeat Hillary Clinton, it’s electorally advantageous. But it starts with Sanders showing that he cares, and right now, there’s not a lot of evidence that he does.

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