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'Dismantle' racism: Muslim-American Democrats issue platform proposals

Coalition of Muslim Democratic delegates puts forward list of recommendations including ending surveillance programmes and US aid to Israel
Muslim protesters at Women's March in Washington, last January (MEE/File photo)
By Ali Harb in Washington

In 2016, the Democratic Party's platform sounded an alarm on the harm that a Donald Trump presidency would cause by outlining potential damages to different communities targeted by the then-Republican nominee's proposals. 

"The stakes have been high in previous elections. But in 2016, the stakes can be measured in human lives - in the number of immigrants who would be torn from their homes; in the number of faithful and peaceful Muslims who would be barred from even visiting our shores; in the number of allies alienated and dictators courted; in the number of Americans who would lose access to health care and see their rights ripped away," it said. 

That passage takes a clear stance against Trump's Muslim ban proposal, but for many activists, the qualifiers of "faithful and peaceful" before "Muslims" were needless and "othered" Muslims. 

This year, dozens of Muslim-American Democratic delegates drafted their own platform of recommendations to the party, calling for addressing systemic racism and ending programmes that treat Muslims as a threat to national security.

"We have to constantly create space at the table. We're never invited," Hanieh Jodat Barnes, a California delegate who co-authored the platform, told MEE.

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"We're building that table now as opposed to just pulling the chair to it."

Ending surveillance

The Muslim-American coalition's platform covers a comprehensive range of domestic and foreign policy issues, making bold recommendations, including ending drone strikes and freezing arms sales to "countries in turmoil".

The delegates also urge ending profiling and spying on Muslim Americans, including through "counterextremism" programmes that focus on the community, like Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP).

"Democrats will reject any and all institutional and systemic racism in our society," the document reads. 

"We will challenge and dismantle the structures that define lasting racial, economic, political, social inequity and religious bigotry, and provide equal opportunities that seek to contribute to our communities, our educational system, and the growth of our economy," adds the document, signed by 70 delegates across the country.

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It calls for repealing the Patriot Act, which gave the government sweeping powers after the 9/11 attack; ending the No Fly list, which bars citizens deemed as threats from boarding planes without due process; and abolishing US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the federal agency responsible for deporting immigrants.

"As Democrats, we oppose the FBI’s mapping of minority communities and the use of informants to prey on minors and those suffering from mental illness or other cognitive disabilities to lure them to engage in crimes that they would not commit otherwise to advance political objectives," the document reads.

"These programs use profiling and surveillance as a means of securing prosecution against Black and Brown communities. They expose already overpoliced communities to additional law enforcement contact."

Nadia Ahmad, a law professor who co-authored the platform and helped identify and contact Muslim delegates across the country, said the document aims to convey an "authentic" vision for the policy goals that Muslim Americans are seeking.

"Go big or go home," she said. "If we can't articulate what we really want, and we articulate a 'moderate position', we're just going to lose ground based off of that."

On foreign policy

The document calls for ending US military aid to Israel.

"As Democrats, we seek a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated by the parties that guarantees equality, security, and democracy for all," it says. 

"No matter what the final resolution regarding states and borders, Israelis and Palestinians alike deserve peace, equal rights, dignity, and security."

The delegates stress that they "uphold" Palestinians' right to resort to non-violent resistance through the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. 

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"As we strive to be a democratic country struggling to secure equal rights for all, it is the height of hypocrisy not to hold Israel accountable," the platform says.

A draft of the Democratic National Committee platform has adopted more progressive positions on many issues, but frustrated Palestinian rights activists over its failure to even mention the word "occupation".

Advocates are still pushing to address the issue before the Democratic National Convention next month.

On Muslim-American communities, the draft platform says: "Democrats will also work to restore trust with our Muslim communities by ensuring the government’s engagement is not discriminatory nor viewed through a security lens."

The Biden campaign

The campaign of the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has been engaged in outreach efforts with Arab, Muslim and Palestinian activists.

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Sabina Mohammed, a delegate from Texas, said the Biden campaign appears to be aware of the power of the Muslim vote - especially in swing states like Michigan - but it is "extremely important to reach out to the Muslim community not on surface only".

Mohammed told MEE that recognising how "dangerous" Donald Trump is and pushing the Democratic Party to address the Muslim community's demands should not be mutually exclusive. 

Moreover, she added, communities across the country are more likely to turn out in larger numbers if they are excited about a candidate.

"A large percentage of our population does not trust our politicians... In order to bring in more people, in order to rally behind the candidate that we have, we need to demonstrate that there's something strong to vote for, as opposed to something strong to vote against," she said.

To read the coalition's full platform, click here.

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