Utter confusion of pundits reveals mainstream bias toward Arabs, not bias of Arabs.
In October, at a student Town Hall in Fairfax, Virginia, George Mason University student Remaz Abdelgader asked Senator and candidate for the 2016 Democratic nomination Bernie Sanders a question about the growing Islamophobia in the United States and the Republican’s inciting rhetoric concerning Muslims.
Bernie Sanders took Abdelgader’s hand and walked her up to the podium.
“I’m Jewish. My father’s family died in concentration camps,” Sanders said. “I will do everything that I can to rid this country of the ugly stain of racism, which has existed for far too many years.”
He then contextualized racism and xenophobia in recent American history, criticizing those politicians who for years have pitted working class people against each other. Those politicians “who played black off against white. [Who] told white workers who were earning pennies an hour, ‘Hey! You think you’re in trouble? You’re better off than the blacks who can’t drink at a water fountain, or go to your school.’”
Politicians pitted men against women, while the middle class shrunk and the corporate upper class thrived. In colonialist terms this strategy is called “divide and conquer.”
“Our job is to build a nation in which we all stand together as one people,” added Sanders to raucous applause. “There is a lot of anger and hatred being generated against Muslims in this country. That’s absolutely correct. There is hatred being generated against immigrants in this country. If we stand for anything, we have got to stand together and end all forms of racism, and I will lead that effort as President of the United States.”
It was a powerful moment in an America that has seen hate crimes against Muslim Americans triple since November. In an America where the Republican political party had a 44% very unfavorable view of Islam, despite 78% of the same Republican respondents saying they neither worked with nor had any Muslim friends, according to a YouGov poll conducted from 6 -9 March, 2015. In an America where failed businessman and top contender for the GOP nomination Donald Trump has publicly and unapologetically called for widespread surveillance on mosques, mass deportations, denial of asylum to all Muslims and has lauded a plan to shoot Muslims with bullets covered in pig’s blood.
So when Bernie Sanders acts like a human being and commits his prospective presidency (not to mention entire career) to combatting racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Muslim Americans overwhelmingly support his bid for the White House.
Yet the media still can’t get a handle on this, as proven by the coverage of Sanders’ win in the Michigan Democratic primary on Tuesday, 8 March against rival Hillary Clinton.
Dearborn, Michigan has a thriving and diverse Arab American community and the highest concentration of Arab Muslims in the United States.
But on the night of the primary, pundits like Lawrence O’Donnell and Chuck Todd reported on MSNBC that Sanders was winning Dearborn “despite” the Arab American community. The implication here is that neither Muslims nor Arabs would vote for the Jewish candidate for president.
As famous Palestinian-American comedian and longtime Dearborn resident Amer Zahr told me back in February, “To say that [Arabs] hate Jews is racist … it’s racist to assume I’m a racist because of my race … that’s racist. So we don’t do that.”
The fact is Bernie Sanders’ campaign conducted serious outreach to the Arab and Muslim American communities of Michigan—and apart from one brief stop by Bill in Dearborn, Hillary Clinton did not.
Before the primary, an Arabic language radio commercial aired in the Dearborn area in which the narrator talks about Republican attacks on Islam contrasted to a recording of Sanders saying “we have got to stand together to end all forms of racism.”
The Sanders campaign tweeted out a Bernie poster, with text in Arabic that says “Not me, us.”
The editorial board of the Arab American News, a thirty-year-old Dearborn journalism institution,endorsed Sanders just days before the primary citing his commitment to social justice, his condemnations of Islamophobia, his regulation of Wall Street, promised tax reforms and social programs. The board further noted his dovish, anti-interventionist stance on U.S. aggressions across the Middle East “driven by special interest groups that exploit the influence of money on Washington.”
Perhaps these reasons in part can explain to the tenaciously confused MSNBC hosts why the Jewish candidate received support from the Arab American communities of Dearborn, to the tune of 63% to Clinton’s 37%.
As Detroit-native Khaled A Beydoun, an assistant professor of law at the Barry University Dwayne O Andreas School of Law in Orlando, Florida and a columnist for Al Jazeera English tweeted on the night of the primary: “Muslims in Michigan voted for #Bernie because he understood our issues. Not because he is, or isn’t, Jewish.”
But Hillary Clinton isn’t stupid. If she is anything, it is a ruthless politician. Her campaign did not forget or overlook Dearborn and its large Arab and Muslim communities.
Her campaign knows simply she can never win among Arabs given her support for disastrous U.S.-intervention across the Middle East.
She supported the invasion of Iraq; the U.S. airstrikes that lead to the toppling of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya and subsequent deadly power vacuum; she has and continues to lend support (and provide weapons) to Saudi’s imperial war in Yemen which has claimed the lives of over 3,000 civilians and created a blockade so devastating half the Yemeni population is on the brink of starvation—Hillary Clinton actually receives campaign donations from Saudi royalty.
Clinton has enthusiastically supported U.S. drone policy which has wreaked havoc in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia over the past decade and only a few days ago killed 150 unidentified people in Somalia. Not to mention U.S. intervention in Syria.
And lest we forget Clinton’s undying and unending support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
Clinton routinely calls Palestinians terrorists and in November penned an oped in the Jewish Daily Forward pledging to reaffirm U.S. support of Israel and ultranationalist, rightwing prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, all the while refusing to say the word occupation.
Just to be clear, what reaffirming “the unbreakable bond with Israel—and Benjamin Netanyahu” means today is support for illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, it means support for the racist incitement against Palestinians common to the Knesset and Netanyahu’s Likud Party, it means an increase in U.S. military aid to Israel from $3 billion annually to $5 billion annually, and it means support for a wholly undemocratic Jewish state which treats Palestinians as third-class citizens and denies them civil, economic and human rights.
And in return for upholding all of these policies, Clinton receives millions of dollars of campaign contributions from Israeli-American media mogul Haim Saban, among other staunch Zionists. Clinton is also set to address AIPAC this month, one of the organizations leading the charge to“mainstream anti-Muslim hate.”
In contrast, Sanders has committed to treating both parties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as equals—a sharp diversion from the official U.S. policy and Democratic party line that casts the conflict as a centuries-old, Arab versus Jew holy war in which uncritical support of Israel is the only thing keeping Israel around.
When we spoke in February about Bernie Sanders’ chances, Amer Zahr fleshed out the fallacy that Arabs dislike Jews.
“The idea that we cast all Jews in the same light, is ridiculous. It’s slanderous actually. It’s not the truth,” Zahr said. “[Arab Americans] are probably more equipped than many Jews even in America, who see Israel with tunnel vision, … to understand the diversity of opinion that exists within the Jewish community about Israel.”
“We don’t cast all Jews in the same light,” added Zahr.
And nor should the political community cast all Arabs in this way.
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