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'Inshallah': Biden uses Arabic expression over release of Trump's tax returns

No foreign policy discussions during the first US presidential debate, in which candidates traded insults and spoke over each other
Biden called Trump the 'worst president that America has ever had' (AFP)
By Ali Harb in Washington

Many Middle East-related policy questions that could affect the lives of millions of people hang on the outcome of the US presidential elections in November: a possible return to the Iran nuclear deal; Washington's relations with Riyadh; and the White House stance on the Israeli-Palestinians conflict, to name a few.

But as Donald Trump and Joe Biden sparred in their first presidential debate, Arab and Muslim Americans were left with a more light-hearted topic to analyse: did Biden say "inshallah" during the widely watched clash on Tuesday night?

Asked about his tax filings following revelations by the New York Times that he had paid little to no taxes over the past few years, Trump said that he had actually paid millions in taxes.

The US president, a self-proclaimed billionaire, has refused to release his tax filings, breaking with a modern tradition for presidential candidates. On Tuesday, he told the debate moderator that people will eventually "get to see" his taxes. That's when Biden said: "When? Inshallah?"

"Inshallah", an expression used across the Arab and Muslim worlds, literally means "if God wills it" in Arabic, but colloquially, it can signal vagueness and non-committal.

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Immediately after Biden made the remark, many Arabic speakers across the US wondered if they had heard it right. Variations of the question "did he just say that?" flooded social media.

Soon after, photoshopped images of the Democratic nominee in Muslim garb accompanied posts trying to find humour in the otherwise highly charged presidential debate.

A far less consequential debate emerged over whether Biden had said "inshallah" or "in July", but the former vice president has used the Arabic expression before. 

At a rally in New Hampshire in February, Biden cast doubt on the viability of his then-Democratic opponent Bernie Sanders' proposal to ensure universal government-funded healthcare - a plan known as Medicare for All.

"They say well, it’s going to take at least four years to pass it, inshallah. Four years. You’re not going to pass it," Biden said at the time.

On Tuesday night, Biden and his Republican opponent interrupted each other and traded personal insults throughout the debate. 

At one point, Biden called on Trump to "shut up," and the president questioned the Democratic nominee's intelligence, telling the former vice president: "There's nothing smart about you, Joe."

Proud Boys should 'stand by'

Later in the debate, Biden described Trump as the "worst president that America has ever had".

The debate discussed various domestic policy issues, including the response to the coronavirus, healthcare, environmental regulations and racial tensions. 

But throughout the event, the candidates delivered few policy talking points in a chaotic conversation. 

In recent weeks, Biden has pledged to end the Trump administration's "Muslim ban" and TVTP, a rebranded version of a Barack Obama-era initiative called Countering Violent Extremism (CVE), which has been rejected by many Arab and Muslim advocates. 

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After the debate, Trump was criticised for failing to clearly condemn white supremacists, including a far-right group called Proud Boys.

When initially asked whether he was willing to denounce white nationalists, Trump said: "Sure."

He was subsequently pressed on whether he would condemn groups like the Proud Boys. 

"Proud Boys, stand back and stand by," Trump said. "But I'll tell you what, somebody's got to do something about antifa and the left."

On Wednesday, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) denounced what it called Trump's "hateful rhetoric".

"Refusing to condemn white supremacy is shameful, and encouraging white supremacists to 'stand by' for possible violence is blatantly threatening," CAIR deputy executive director Edward Ahmed Mitchell said in a statement. 

"Elected officials across the political spectrum must repudiate President Trump's hateful rhetoric, which long ago went from being disturbing and embarrassing to destabilizing and dangerous."

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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