Chelsea Clinton and The Insidiousness of Islamophobia
It is an insidious iteration of white supremacy that vilifies Dweick while simultaneously positioning Clinton’s demeanor as that of a victim.
By Anuhya Bobba
Last Friday, Chelsea Clinton attended a New York University vigil in honor of the 50 victims of the white supremacist terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
Clinton’s arrival was met by NYU students, Leen Dweick and Rose Asaf, who confronted Clinton and questioned her presence. Dweick, a Palestinian Muslim told Clinton, “This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world. And, I want you to know that, and I want you to feel that deep inside.”
The video, filmed by Asaf and posted to Twitter led to both the student activists getting attacked by not just conservatives and fascists online, but liberals like Kathy Griffin, Billy Baldwin, Rosie O’Donnell, and other verified Twitter accounts with large follower counts.
Dweick and Asaf have since received a bevy of death threats, while the mainstream media has also chosen to practice an implicit form of Islamophobia, painting the student as a ruthless critic of a soon-to-be mother like Clinton — shielding Clinton in the innocence, the sanctity of her white femininity.
In a piece for Buzzfeed, Dweick and Asaf stated their intentions clearly:
“We were shocked when Clinton arrived at the vigil, given that she had not yet apologized to Rep. Omar for the public vilification against her. We thought it was inappropriate for her to show up to a vigil for a community she had so recently stoked hatred against. We were not alone in feeling uncomfortable — many students were dismayed to see her there.
So when we saw Chelsea, we saw an opportunity to have her ear and confront her on her false charge of anti-Semitism against our only Black, Muslim, Somali, and refugee member of Congress. We took our chance to speak truth to power. Chelsea hurt our fight against white supremacy when she stood by the petty weaponizers of antisemitism, showing no regard for Rep. Omar and the hatred being directed at her.”
Dweick’s words have been distorted to indicate that she believes that Clinton directly caused the Christchurch massacre, despite her explicit remark that the rhetoric of Clinton and that of persons like Clinton pave way — however far away — for acts as merciless as the ones at Christchurch to occur.
Clinton, in the weeks prior, peddled conflated charges of anti-semitic and anti-zionist speech against Representative Ilhan Omar — beside a number of Democrats and Republicans, many of whom have received hundreds of thousands dollars from pro-Israel lobbies like AIPAC. In the 2015-2016 election campaign, Clinton’s mother, Hillary Clinton, received close to $212,927 from AIPAC-backed contributions.
Clinton implied that Omar, in her criticism of the intense lobbying capacities of AIPAC upon the United States Congress, did not embody the values of a “true” American. Clinton tweeted, “Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.”
Omar, in turn, received death threat after death threat. She was relentlessly criticized, and her comments weren’t afforded the nuance that is seamlessly provided to white politicians across partisan lines. Omar was “othered” so intensely, especially by prominent centrist democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, that a resolution was drafted to reprimand her.
Republican members of Congress have long doled out anti-semitic comments, far more blunt, far more insidious, than the critiques raised by Omar. In his Intercept article, Mehdi Hasan listed six members of the Republican Party who should be called to resign for their anti-semitism, which includes the notoriously white supremacist Rep. Steve King and Rep. Matt Gaetz who invited a Holocaust denier to the State of the Union. None have faced the denouncement that Omar did.
Omar, in her black skin, in her practice of Islam, was tremendously easy to vilify.
Clinton, in her criticism of Omar, practiced a form of Islamophobia that is not as overt as that of the Christchurch shooter. And, that is a truth that needs to be confronted.
Racism is perpetuated by explicit bias but also by implicit bias. Project Implicit, undertaken by Harvard University, explains, “An explicit stereotype is the kind that you deliberately think about and report. An implicit stereotype is one that is relatively inaccessible to conscious awareness and/or control.” Racism exists on that scale between implicit bias (represented by you or your peer) to explicit bias (a mass shooter). Or, as psychologist Joe Pierre writes in When Racism Motivates Violence, “racism is a prime example of the kind of seed of violence that spans a continuum from all of us to the mass murderer at other end of the spectrum.”
Racism — like Islamophobia — is physically violent, as it is an everyday process. Therefore, when you are reminded of Christchurch, I hope that you also remind yourself of the members of congress who further marginalized Omar until her safety was in peril and that they were not as quick to call for her security as they were to limit discourse on AIPAC’s lobbying and the continued apartheid in Palestine.
When you are reminded of Ilhan Omar’s tweets, I hope that you also recall Benjamin Netanyahu’s comment that Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.” Israel is also 17.7 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, and 1.6 percent Druze. Netanyahu’s evident islamophobia has not been as widely condemned as Omar’s purported anti-semitism.
I hope that you are cognizant of the manner in which you have normalized racist or islamophobic rhetoric in your speech and have left each unexamined, in the guise of good intention. In the guise that your speech is not near to the violence shelled out by a semi-automatic rifle. It can be. And it provides a firm foundation to uplift the violence that we have witnessed last week.
Islamophobia is not limited to the massacre; it can also exist in the decision of Clinton to sideline Omar. The white femininity of Clinton has been weaponized to again “other” Dweick as a brown, Muslim activist. Dweick has the tenable right to mourn without the presence of imperialists, especially imperialists who have yet to apologize for their role in regurgitating a form of islamophobia weeks earlier. It is an insidious iteration of white supremacy that vilifies Dweick while simultaneously positioning Clinton’s demeanor as that of a defenseless victim rather than as an imperialist with no right to perform mourning with the people she harms.
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