Biden’s Promises to American Muslims
From campaign rhetoric, promises of inclusion, and the dismantling of controversial policies, Biden now has to prove to American Muslims that he isn’t just another politician.
Since the beginning of election season, Joe Biden’s campaign took note of the growing significance of American Muslims within the realms of political engagement. In doing this, Biden approached Muslim voters directly by speaking directly with and to members of the community.
In an attempt to create a narrative based around inclusion, Biden actively engaged with Muslims, and made promises which have the potential to dismantle Islamophobia throughout the country one policy at a time. Yet, what he says and promises now are in the spotlight, as he transitions from the role of a candidate seeking votes to becoming the next president of the United States.
A shift in rhetoric
As the cameras rolled during the second 2016 presidential debate, Hillary Clinton looked toward the audience, and called for American Muslims “to be a part our eyes and ears on the front lines” in regards to fighting domestic terrorism.
A transition from this style of rhetoric and towards something of inclusion is a notable trait of Biden’s campaign. From using the Arabic word Inshallah “If God wills it” in a presidential debate to attending conferences held by Emgage, one of America’s largest Muslim political action committees (PAC), Biden continues to reach out to the community on a new level. According to Farooq Mitha, the campaign’s senior advisor on Muslim American engagement, Biden attended over 150 Muslim events in the course of seven months.
While watching the campaign unfold Danish Munir, the Executive Director of Emgage New York Metro, noted how Biden demonstrated growth and personal empathy.
“I think the way he’s spoken to the community, the way he’s addressed the community, the way his team has addressed the community it really does sound like a true, respectful acceptance [of us] as a part of America. As a fabric of America,” Munir said during a Zoom interview with me.
Now, as the days near for Biden to officially take office, American Muslims are watching closely whether Biden will follow through with the many promises he’s made to them.
Beyond rhetoric, moving toward action
One of the most significant changes Biden promises is an end to programs such as Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) which recently was rebranded under the Trump Administration as Targeting Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP). These programs first introduced under the Obama Administration originally served the purpose of providing grants to local communities to help prevent the radicalization and indoctrination of individuals to extremist ideologies.
However, these programs have received criticism from multiple Muslim advocacy groups.
“TVTP replicates the agency’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program — a failed, anti-Muslim counterterrorism program based on the debunked assumption that certain communities are predisposed towards violence based on their race or faith, and allows privacy and civil liberty violations,” Muslim Advocates stated in a press release earlier this year.
The dismantlement of these types of programs, along with a review of the Homeland Security “watchlists” and “no-fly lists” that disproportionately affect Muslims and other minorities, would indicate another shift away from how the government has treated many American Muslims since 9/11.
Expanding laws to protect Muslims
In July 2020, the No Ban Act successfully passed in Congress, taking it a step closer to becoming the first Muslim civil rights law. The act is a significant push toward protecting individuals against religious discrimination during the visa process. In addition, the act will move forward not only to repeal the Trump administration’s infamous travel ban, also known as the Muslim Ban, but make it where no such law could pass again.
This law marks a significant change for immigrants and refugees seeking resettlement in the United States. During the last few years in particular, Muslims seeking resettlement were impacted greatly. A 2019 report from the Migration Policy Institute found that Muslim refugee resettlement has dropped 87% since 2016.
The FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA) report shows an increase in hate crimes, with 7,314 incidents reported in 2019 alone. This shows an increase in 194 incidents reported compared to 2018. Among these crimes, there was a 7% increase in religious motivated hate crimes. To counteract this increase, the Biden administration promises to move towards passing the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act. If passed, it will create a more accurate data collection system recording hate crimes and help assist communities affected as a direct result of hate crimes.
Along with working on passing the End Racial and Religious Profiling Act of 2019 that will move to eliminate discrimination by law enforcement, the Biden administration promises to tackle targeting more seriously.
“As religious minorities, as people of faith, and as Americans, Muslims and Jews know that hate is like a fire set in the woods; when one tree is targeted all are in danger of setting ablaze. To extinguish the conflagration of hate crimes in this country each victim must count and all must be counted — the NO HATE Act gets us there,” Dr. Ari Gordon of AJC and the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council said in a press release published by Virginia Senator Mark Warner.
Inclusion within government
Early in his campaign, Biden announced plans to include American Muslims within every level of his administration.
“I think he’s gonna have a definitely more inclusive cabinet. You know even Kamala Harris that he chose as his running mate shows that it is diversity and inclusion on the top of his mind,” said Hud Williams, a member of The Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam, during a phone interview.
Now, the promise of inclusion is coming to fruition with recent announcements of members within the transition team.
“Muslims are at the table on every major topic, from COVID-19 to climate change or foreign policy. The remaining Muslim Transition team names will become public in due time,” Munir added.
While all the names and positions haven’t been publicly released yet, there are six American Muslims who have been added to the transition team so far. One of the early announcements, Reema Dodin, is the the first Palestinian-American Muslim to hold the title of Deputy Director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Other positions range from posts in the Department of Defense to the United States Agency for Global Media Agency Review. A public announcement surrounding all names and positions is expected in early 2021.
The significance of accountability
In the immediate moments following the announcement of Biden’s win, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, released a press statement congratulating Biden while also making it clear they would hold him accountable for his promises. This coincided with other civil rights organizations such as Muslim Advocates releasing a petition also pushing the Biden administration to follow through on earlier campaign promises.
“One of the biggest fears that American Muslims have is that the administration will neglect some of the promises and principles that it made to Muslim communities, and just like a lot of other communities, African American, Latinx, Asian American, and a number of others. A lot of people fear that once these folks come to power, that they won’t be as eager to engage with these communities,” Abbas Barzegar , National Research and Advocacy Director at CAIR, said during an interview.
After a historic year at the polls for American Muslims there is a desire not to let the momentum of the election year fade.
“What I would want to see from my community is…that after we’ve done all this hard work, that we don’t just walk away from it, and that we don’t just like now go back to our lives for the next four years,” Munir said.
This sentiment continues, as organizations continue to closely follow updates coming from the incoming Biden Administration.
“It is important that American Muslims come out, and really make their domestic and foreign policy issues very clear, very tangible, and very loud at this time…Muslims need to move into a space of viability for for their own expectations to be met,” Barzegar said.