Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by Steven Stalinsky, titled, “Welcome to Dearborn, America’s Jihad Capital: Imams and politicians in the Michigan city side with Hamas against Israel and Iran against the U.S.”
As a result of the Journal piece, the mayor of Dearborn, Abdullah H. Hammoud, tweeted that there had been “an alarming increase in bigoted and Islamophobic rhetoric online targeting the city of Dearborn,” and that an increased presence of police in places of worship and infrastructure points would be effective immediately.
Two days after the column was published, President Joe Biden tweeted: “Americans know that blaming a group of people based on the words of a small few is wrong. That’s exactly what can lead to Islamophobia and anti-Arab hate, and it shouldn’t happen to the residents of Dearborn—or any American town. We must continue to condemn hate in all forms.”
Though there was no context offered in Biden’s tweet in terms of why he was making this statement at that particular moment, an email from the White House Muslim liaison, Mazen Basrawi, to members of the Muslim community confirmed the connection between his tweet and the Wall Street Journal opinion piece.
Basrawi was appointed as the White House Muslim liaison in April 2023—a position that the Biden-Harris campaign pledged to restore in 2020 after both the White House’s Eid celebration and the liaison position had been eliminated by former President Donald Trump. To date, Basrawi’s position has been largely symbolic and demonstrative of the dangerous perils of tokenism—his presence allowing for the rubber stamping of disingenuous and violent messages to an audience of Muslims that he and the White House seem to presume has little wherewithal to discern the real problem driving the increase in the targeting of Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities.
This wasn’t the first time Biden thought to condemn hate and bigotry during Israel’s genocide. For example, last year on Nov. 27, two days after three Palestinian students were shot in Burlington, Vermont, President Biden tweeted a similar sentiment saying that he and Jill Biden were horrified about the shootings and that “while we are waiting for more facts, we know this: there is absolutely no place for hate in America.”
A month earlier, in Oct. 2023, when a six-year-old Palestinian boy named Wadea Al-Fayoumi was stabbed to death in an alleged hate crime in Illinois, Biden acknowledged his murder in a White House briefing on “the United States’ Response to Hamas’s Terrorist Attacks Against Israel and Russia’s Ongoing Brutal War Against Ukraine.” This time, the president offered “remorse,” saying, “I know many of you in the Muslim American community or the Arab American community, the Palestinian American community, and so many others are outraged and hurting, saying to yourselves, ‘Here we go again,’ with Islamophobia and distrust we saw after 9/11.” He added, “we can’t stand by and stand silent when this happens. We must, without equivocation, denounce antisemitism. We must also, without equivocation, denounce Islamophobia.”
Like clockwork, Basrawi sent an email regarding Biden’s statement, prefacing it by saying that the president would “continue to unequivocally denounce Islamophobia, and ensure that every American has the freedom to live their lives in safety and without fear for how they pray, what they believe, and who they are.” Somehow, that was deemed an appropriate message to a community that has continued to reel from the anti-Arab bigotry, anti-Palestinian bigotry, and Islamophobic hate that Biden’s own policies have caused.
If Biden’s apparent sympathy and condemnations of bigotry were meaningless before (he and his administration continued to support and advance War on Terror policies), his statements over the last four months have been offered in the context of the U.S.-backed Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people for which he and his administration have provided deep support.
To this end, these sporadic statements—instead of serving any useful purpose—have not only been used as a substitute for action, they also add another layer of violence: the violence of symbolism for Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian communities already facing significant backlash in the United States.
Biden’s disingenuous gestures of solidarity and empathy reveal something additionally insidious and opportunistic. That is, the occurrence of physical and/or rhetorical hate—and his condemnations of it—provide him with the opportunity to feign outrage and a sort of helplessness in addressing these systems of oppression, all while ignoring and whitewashing the U.S.’ and, in this case, Israel’s state violence.
Moreover, it bears noting that there is a specific connection between state violence and hate violence. As criminology and sociology Prof. Scott Poynting and criminology and justice Prof. Barbara Perry wrote in the Journal of Current Issues in Criminal Justice, state violence “conveys a sort of ideological license to individuals, groups, and institutions to perpetrate and perpetuate racial hatred.”
In other words, it’s not just about failing to acknowledge state violence, it’s also about failing to acknowledge state violence with the recognition of the role it plays in setting the precedent for hate violence. If getting the “job done”—as Biden’s campaign slogan put it—was applied to the treatment of Muslim, Arabs, and Palestinians, the “job done” would be a stand-in for genocide and other forms of state violence.
On Jan. 14 of this year, President Biden made a statement marking 100 days of the captivity of hostages in Gaza and condemning the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel. His statement failed to mention Palestinians a single time, nor was the horror that they have continued to endure—including the fact that by the 100-day mark, at least 24,000 Paletinians had been killed—acknowledged at all. Additionally, after the ICJ ruling that is plausible Israel is committing genocide, the White House maintained that these claims were unfounded and that it would continue to back Israel.
Shallow words, empty promises, and symbolic politics must be seen for what they are.
To keep Dearborn’s Muslims, Arabs, and Palestinians safe—along with these communities across the United States—Biden must stop sending a signal to the world that it will endlessly continue to support the murder of Palestinians en masse, by demanding a permanent ceasefire to stop Israel’s genocide. He must also stop feigning innocence for the blowback of violence towards these communities in the United States and reckon with the deep harm his policies have caused.
Until there is actual respect and recognition of the humanity and dignity of these lives, marked by the cessation of all violence, Biden’s words will remain hollow.