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Dear Bill Clinton: Muslim Americans aren't just tools in the war on terror

Former President Bill Clinton addresses the crowd in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA, on the second day of the Democratic National Convention, July 26, 2016.
Former President Bill Clinton addresses the crowd in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, PA, on the second day of the Democratic National Convention, July 26, 2016.
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

It's common knowledge at this point that the Republican Party, and Donald Trump especially, has been engaging in some pretty ugly anti-Muslim rhetoric during this election cycle: obsessively harping on the importance of calling the enemy by its name, "radical Islam," and supporting a temporary ban on all Muslims coming into the United States.

The Democratic Party, therefore, has tried to present itself during this campaign as the more inclusive, Islam-friendly party, in opposition to the GOP. And in many ways, it has succeeded. For instance, one of the speakers on the first night of the Democratic National Convention was Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim to be elected to the US Congress.

Yet on the second night of the convention, the keynote speaker, former President Bill Clinton, made a statement that to many Muslim Americans, myself included, felt just as offensive and alienating as many of Donald Trump's comments about Muslims.

Toward the end of his long speech, Bill said, "If you're a Muslim and you love America and freedom and you hate terror, stay here and help us win and make a future together. We want you."

This statement is not inclusive. It's offensive.

It reduces American Muslims to their role as either facilitating or not facilitating counterterrorism, as if we play no other role in American life. That couldn't be farther from the truth.

Muslim American communities have value to this country beyond counterterrorism

We're good neighbors: Muslim organizations raised more than $100,000 to help rebuild black churches in the South that were damaged in arson attacks. We're there to lend a hand in a crisis: Muslim Americans donated 30,000 bottles of water to the Red Cross in Flint, Michigan, to help Flint residents suffering from the water contamination crisis there. And we're patriotic Americans: We fight and die for this country as members of the US military, we dedicate our lives to public service in the government, and we earn merit badges, sell cookies, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.

That's not to say that American Muslims are special and therefore deserve special treatment. Quite the opposite: As President Obama put it in his speech earlier this year at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, "You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American." As such, American Muslims have earned the same place in American society as everyone else. And that comes with the liberty and religious protections that help make this country what it is. Extending us those rights shouldn't be treated as some counterterrorism trade-off, because it denies our broader role in society.

At the DNC, speakers certainly struck a much more inclusive tone toward Muslims than the Republicans last week. But our leaders shouldn't advocate for more engagement with Muslim American communities and push back against anti-Muslim rhetoric simply because it's a good counterterrorism strategy.

They should do that because we're Americans. We've been here since the founding of this country and we belong here.

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