Metro Detroit reaction to Islamophobia comments mixed

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Islamophobia entered the debate stage Sunday, when an undecided voter asked the candidates during a town hall setting how they would fight discrimination against the nation’s Muslims, many of whom live in Metro Detroit.

A Muslim-American woman addressed both Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton when she asked a question on Islamophobia.

“There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States and I’m one of them,” she began. “You’ve mentioned working with Muslim nations. But with Islamophobia on the rise, how will you help people like me deal with the consequences of being labeled as a threat to the country after the election is over?”

The candidates’ responses drew mixed reaction from local observers, where Metro Detroit is home of one of the largest concentrations of Muslim-Americans.

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on Islamic Relations-Detroit, said he was disappointed by the responses of Trump and Clinton in how they would fight discrimination against Muslim-Americans. He said the candidates brought ISIS into a conversation about fighting Islamophobia, creating “an implicit bias.”

“The need to discuss American-Muslims who overwhelmingly have nothing to do with ISIS is very problematic,” Walid said. “It just reaffirms an extremely fraught framework that is based in implicit bias.”

The better response, Walid said, would have been to say the nation has a serious problem with discriminating against Muslims, “and we need to stop painting Americans with broad brushes and turning Americans against each other.”

Sam Bazzi, an engineer from Rochester Hills, said he was optimistic about Clinton’s response, and disappointed in Trump’s.

“She wants to work with the Muslim community instead of breaking ties (with Muslim-Americans),” said Bazzi. “Her response made me feel like a U.S citizen who is welcome in this country, not an outsider.”

Trump called Islamophobia “a shame,” adding that Americans needed to be honest, acknowledge there is a problem and Muslims need to report hatred going on. He pointed to the terrorist incidents in San Bernadino, Orlando and Paris, and blasted Clinton for not using the words radical Islamic terrorism.

“These are radical Islamic terrorists,” Trump said. “And she won’t even mention the word. And nor will President Obama. ...

“We have to make sure that, because there is a problem, I mean, whether we like it or not and we can be very politically correct, but whether we like it or not, there is a problem and we have to be sure that Muslims come in and report when they see something going on,” Trump said. “When they see hatred going on, they have to report it.

Moderator Martha Raddatz pressed Trump on his changing positions on Muslims entering the United States.

“In December, you said this: Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice. We have no choice,” Raddatz said. “Your running mate said this week that the Muslim ban is no longer your position. Is that correct and if it is, was it a mistake to have a religious test?”

Trump responded that the “Muslim ban is something that in some form has morphed into a extreme vetting from certain areas of the world.”

His positions have changed. Initially he called for banning all Muslims. That morphed into a “temporary ban,” and eventually, his “extreme vetting” for Muslims seeking entry into the United States.

Clinton, in her answer to the question on protecting Muslim-Americans from discrimination, said she had heard the question a lot because there has been “very divisive, dark things said about Muslims.”

She pointed to Trump’s attack of the Muslim family of the late Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004..

“My vision of America is an America where everyone has a place if you are willing to work hard, you do your part, you contribute to the community; that’s what America is, that’s what we want America to be for our children and our grandchildren,” Clinton said.

“It’s also very short-sighted, and even dangerous, to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric that Donald has about Muslims. We need American-Muslims to be part of our eyes and ears, on our front lines. I’ve worked with a lot of different Muslim groups around America, and I’ve met with a lot of them and heard how important it is to them to feel that they are wanted, and included and part of our country.”

Clinton said America needed Muslim nations to form a coalition to defeat terrorists and could not risk alienating them.

“Right now, a lot of those nations are hearing what Donald says and wondering why should we cooperate with the Americans,” Clinton said. “This is a gift to ISIS and the terrorists, violent, jihadist terrorists. We are not at war with Islam. And it is mistake to play into the hands of terrorists to act as though we are.”

Bazzi said Trump did not answer the question about how he would fight Islamophobia.

“He makes me feel like I have to hide my own religion because of the messages he is sending,” Bazzi said.

KKozlowski@detroitnews.com