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ON THE FRONT LINES: American Muslims, do not get excited over Biden saying ‘Inshallah’

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s token remarks should not elicit any excitement. Policy should. – Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

It happened so quickly that it took the flooding of my Twitter timeline and frantic messages from my friends watching for me to realize it: Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for the 2020 election, said “Inshallah” in response to President Donald J. Trump during their heated quote-unquote debate last Tuesday. 

For those of you who are not Arab, Muslim or do not have Arab and/or Muslim friends (get some), “Inshallah” means “God willing” and when used colloquially, can allude to an unfulfilled promise.

For instance, if I set a goal for myself, I will say “Inshallah” that it will happen, because ultimately everything is up to Allah, and as much as I plan, I believe that everything is in God’s hands. Muslims believe that life is predetermined by Allah and that we are at His mercy. 

But at the same time, if I ask my grandparents to go somewhere and they respond with “Inshallah,” there is a good chance that we are never going. “Inshallah” becomes a way for my grandparents to brush off my plans by leaving it up to God. 

At the back-and-forth squabbling between angry white men that people are calling the first presidential debate of 2020, Biden asked Trump about his tax returns. Despite The New York Times investigation revealing that he paid a meager $750 in income tax in 2016-17, Trump said he had paid "millions of dollars. And you'll get to see it,” to which Biden said “When? Inshallah?” 

Admittedly, this is an epic burn on Biden’s part and was used perfectly, despite a bit of wonky pronunciation. Muslim and Arab Twitter immediately exploded after the sentiment, with some saying “We made it” while others condemned it. 

After the 20-second rush that came from finally being visible on a national scale and the “OMG!!!” texts I sent to my friends, I quickly sobered up from the glee of representation. 

Muslim-Americans are hardly ever included in the national dialogue, despite a 2017 poll showing that Muslims make up 3.45 million Americans. With a few notable exceptions — shoutout “Ramy” — there are no shows or films that accurately depict Muslim Americans, hardly any brands that include modest clothing that many Muslims choose to wear and nearly no Muslim celebrities in Hollywood. 

When Muslims are discussed on national levels, it is almost always in a negative light. Post-9/11, the word “Muslim” has all-too-often been equated with “terrorist” — despite Muslim Americans condemning the horrific attack as atrocious and a disturbing distortion of Islam. Think about it: When is the last time you saw Muslims in the news for a good reason? When did you ever see Muslims in your American studies classes? 

The lack of accurate representation that Muslims experience extends to politics. Only three Muslims currently serve in Congress and are all members of the House of Representatives.

In fact, at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, no Muslim speakers were invited to attend, and it is hard to believe that this was not done intentionally when there are countless prominent Muslims that are riding for Biden, and even Republicans were invited to speak. You are telling me there was no room for even one Muslim? 

Besides dropping our vernacular, Biden has hardly done anything to deserve the praise from the Muslim community. Recently, Biden’s campaign publicly disavowed long-time Muslim activist Linda Sarsour after calling her anti-Semitic for her pro-Palestine views. 

Biden’s unrelenting commitment to Israel, despite Palestinian human rights violations, alienates Muslim voters even further. Palestine is a hugely discussed topic in Muslim spaces, and many Muslim activists condemn Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.

Biden’s aim to confront anti-Semitism is incredibly necessary and something to commend him for, but his conflation with anti-Semitism and pro-Palestinian politics makes it impossible for activists to criticize Israel.

On his website, his campaign brags that he “has led efforts to oppose the delegitimization of Israel, whether in international organizations or by the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement here at home.” The BDS Movement is a hugely important topic 

Not to mention the countless drone strikes in Muslim countries during the Obama-era that Biden surely had a hand in. In 2016, the Obama administration dropped more than 26,171 bombs in seven Muslim-majority countries: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. 

I am not saying that Muslims should not vote for Biden — to be honest, it seems like Muslims do not really have a choice. When there is a candidate that enacted a blatantly Islamophobic “Muslim ban” and another candidate who opposes it, many Muslims see this position as supporting the lesser of two evils. 

It is truly sad that the whole Muslim Americans diaspora was ecstatic over a mere muffled word. It is valid that we are excited about this crumb of acceptance, but we cannot ignore the larger problem of not being properly included. 

“Inshallah” is nowhere near enough. We should demand more, because our interests matter, and we belong in America as much as any other group of people. We deserve recognition and politicians that care about what matters to our beautiful, important and dynamic communities. 

Ameena Qobrtay is the Inside Beat editor of The Daily Targum.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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