During a speech about how to defeat the terrorist group ISIS in New York City on Thursday, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton offered a full-throated defense of Islam and U.S. Muslims — saying that America’s terrorist enemy shouldn’t be confused with American Muslims, who are on the “front lines” of the fight against extremism.
“The bottom line is that we are in a contest of ideas against an ideology of hate, and we have to win. Let’s be clear, though. Islam is not our adversary,” she said. “Muslims are peaceful and tolerant people and have nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism.”
“The obsession in some quarters with a clash of civilization or repeating the specific words, radical Islamic terrorism isn’t just a distraction. It gives these criminals, these murderers, more standing than they deserve. It actually plays into their hands by alienating partners we need by our side,” she added.
The comments come in response to a specific attack that Republicans have been pushing, in which they say it is important to name and denounce “radical Islam” in public. However, this is somewhat of a new stance for Republicans, as President George W. Bush warned against using the phrase after September 11. President Obama has also resisted saying the phrase, in part because Muslim scholars take issue with saying that ISIS is an “Islamic” organization because it deliberately misreads theology to support its violent extremism.
Clinton continued later in her speech: “This should go without saying, but Muslim Americans are working everyday on the front lines of the fight against radicalization.”
Finally, near the end of her speech, she specifically pushed back against those protesting receiving Syrian refugees in the United States.
“But we cannot allow terrorists to intimidate us into abandoning our values and our humanitarian obligations. Turning away orphans, applying a religious test, discriminating against Muslims, slamming the door on every Syrian refugee, that is just not who we are. We are better than that,” Clinton said. “We should be doing more to ease this humanitarian crisis, not less.”
“America’s open, free, tolerant society is described by some as a vulnerability in the struggle against terrorism, but I actually believe it’s one of our strengths. It reduces the appeal of radicalism and enhances the richness and resilience of our communities,” she said. “This is not a time for scoring political points.”
More than two dozen governors have protested accepting Syrian refugees in their states, even though they do not legally have the authority to refuse them. Many Republican candidates have also offered up ideas on how to refuse refugees, from only accepting Christians to defunding the State Department’s program for refugees that Obama announced in September. He has threatened to veto legislation Congress is working on that would take this latter advice. And it’s not just Republicans taking that stance. One Virginia mayor, who was part of Clinton’s state leadership team, called for World War II-style internment camps for potential terrorists, like the ones that the U.S. placed Japanese Americans in. He was kicked off her leadership team shortly thereafter.
During the Q&A, when asked about Republican candidates’ push for prioritizing Christian refugees over Muslim ones, she said “I just don’t think we should have religious tests” for refugees.