US Vice President Kamala Harris's recent announcement of the Biden administration's new strategy to combat Islamophobia has stirred a storm of criticism within the Muslim American community, where many perceive it as mere lip service.
The Biden White House finds itself in the midst of mounting criticism from Muslim Americans, largely stemming from its support for Israel's extensive air strikes on Gaza, which has tragically resulted in more than 9,000 Palestinian deaths including 3,760 children.
The decision to unveil this strategy has left many speculating that it may be a response to recent polls indicating a noticeable decline in President Biden's support among Arab Americans, viewed by some as a damage control effort.
The timing of this announcement tragically coincides with the killing of 6-year-old Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian-American child, and his mother, who were brutally stabbed in their shared apartment outside Chicago, Illinois.
In a video posted on X, Harris said on Wednesday, “I am proud to announce the Biden Harris Administration will develop our nation's first national strategy to counter Islamophobia. This strategy will be a comprehensive and detailed plan to protect Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim from hate, bigotry and violence and to address the concern that some government policies may discriminate against Muslims."
What American Muslims say
The Council on American Muslims (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organisation, reported on October 24 that it has received 774 complaints, including incidents of bias, since the escalation of violence in Israel and Palestine on October 7. To provide perspective, in the entire month of August, CAIR received a total of 63 complaints, underscoring a significant surge in the number of reports being escalated to the national level.
In response to Harris's announcement, Ahmed Rehab, the Executive Director of CAIR-Chicago, underscored, “Given the imbalanced statements that have come out of the White House that have contributed to the atmosphere of otherization, dehumanisation and Islamophobia, we are approaching (the Biden announcement) with caution, given the atmosphere.”
Omer Suleiman, a prominent American imam, shared his article published two years ago in response to Harris's post on X. He expressed his view that political statements and rhetoric fall short of addressing the actual impact of government policies and the increased funding provided to their ally, Israel.
“As I wrote when President Joe Biden won election in the fall, pleasant rhetoric doesn’t undo horrific policies and in fact may even perpetuate them. While Biden ended the Muslim travel ban, he certainly hasn’t stopped the bombs over Muslim heads in places like Yemen and Palestine.” Suleiman emphasised.
Details of the statement
In her video statement, Harris acknowledged, “Over the past decade, America has seen a rise in attacks on houses of worship. So in response, we expanded funding to protect houses of worship from violence.”
However, critics are quick to point out that the same US administration has not taken action to prevent Israel from targeting and destroying 26 places of worship in Palestine.
Simultaneously, the top military and diplomatic leaders of the United States urged on Tuesday to provide immediate aid to Israel, arguing during a Senate hearing that comprehensive support for this aid would demonstrate US strength to adversaries worldwide. President Joe Biden has requested a substantial $14.3 billion for Israel.
Harris continued to address the situation, saying, "We have observed a rise in anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, anti-Semitic, and Islamophobic incidents across America, including the brutal attack on a Palestinian American woman who is Muslim and the tragic killing of her six-year-old son."
She later added, "For years, Muslims in America and those perceived to be Muslim have endured a disproportionate number of hate fueled attacks as a result of the Hamas terrorist attack in Israel and the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.”
These statements, however, appear to sidestep the underlying causes and the factors driving this surge in hatred among Americans in recent times.
It's worth noting that some believe that the statements from senior US officials and the American media's repetition of the Israeli state's talking points, have contributed to an atmosphere that many argue has played a role in the rise of Islamophobia in the country.