In the final Democratic presidential debate of the year, all three candidates said the U.S. government should partner with Muslims in the fight against terrorism and accused Republicans of demonizing adherents of the world’s second largest religion.
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that Republican front-runner Donald Trump’s statements on Islam are used as recruiting tools by the terrorist group ISIS drew both media attention and calls by Trump for an apology.
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“We also need to make sure the really discriminatory messages that Trump is sending around the world don’t fall on receptive ears,” Clinton said during the Dec. 19 debate. “He is becoming ISIS’s best recruiter. They are going to people showing videos of Donald Trump insulting Islam and Muslims in order to recruit more radical jihadists. So I want to explain why this is not in America’s interest to react with this kind of fear and respond to this sort of bigotry.”
Clinton apparently was referencing Trump’s Dec. 7 call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. in response to the threat of Islamic terrorism.
Trump demanded an apology Dec. 21, calling Clinton’s statement “a disgusting story she made up about me,” according to Politico. The Washington Post said Clinton’s claim that ISIS utilizes videos of Trump “doesn’t appear to be true.”
In defense, the Clinton campaign pointed to statements by intelligence analyst Rita Katz that ISIS “follow[s] everything Trump says.” Katz told The Post, “ISIS didn’t feature a Trump video, but ISIS supporters and recruiters have used Trump’s rhetoric to promote ISIS’s ideas and agenda.”
During the debate, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley also criticized Trump’s policy proposals regarding Islam.
Sanders, apparently employing hyperbole, depicted Trump as stating, “We hate all Muslims because all of the Muslims are terrorists.” O’Malley said the son of a Muslim friend in Maryland asked his father, “Dad, what happens if Donald Trump wins and we have to move out of our houses?”
In all, the candidates mentioned Trump at least nine times by name – five by Clinton – and appeared to reference him on one other occasion without using his name.
Clinton said preventing domestic terrorism will require working “more closely with Muslim-American communities.” The former first lady said she “met with a group of Muslim Americans this past week to hear from them what they’re doing to stop radicalization.
“They will be our early warning signal,” Clinton said of Muslim Americans. “That’s why we need to work with them, not demonize them as the Republicans have been doing.”
In a Dec. 15 Republican presidential debate, no other candidate expressed agreement with Trump’s proposal to temporary halt Muslim immigration. Former Fla. Gov. Jeb Bush said a ban on Muslim immigration would be counterproductive by pushing Muslim allies away from America when they are needed in the fight against ISIS.
During the Democratic debate, Clinton cited the need to “[make] sure that Muslim Americans don’t feel left out or marginalized at the very moment when we need their help.”
Sanders said the U.S. should build a military coalition with Muslim countries to fight ISIS. He agreed with a statement he attributed to King Abdullah II of Jordan: “International terrorism is by definition an international issue, but it is primarily an issue of the Muslim nations who are fighting for the soul of Islam.”
Sanders added later, “The troops on the ground [fighting ISIS] should not be American troops. They should be Muslim troops” from “countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”
Clinton said “ground combat troops” should come largely from Sunni Muslim nations since ISIS is a Sunni extremist group. She stipulated, however, that U.S. “special operators” and “trainers” may also be needed.
O’Malley expressed concern America could violate religious liberty in its zeal to combat Islamic terrorism.
“We need to speak to what unites us as a people,” O’Malley said, “freedom of worship, freedom of religion, freedom of expression. And we should never be convinced to give up those freedoms for a promise of greater security – especially from someone as untried and as incompetent as Donald Trump.”
O’Malley twice referenced ISIS’s activities against Christians as “genocide.” Arguing for continued welcoming of Syrian refugees to America, he spoke of persecuted “Chaldean Christian communities.” Clinton likewise opposed halting Muslim immigration – a policy Sanders also has opposed.
O’Malley said Chaldean Christians have told him “when ISIS moves into their town, they actually paint a red cross across the door and mark their homes for demolition, and that tells the family you’d better get out now. That [is the] sort of genocide and brutality that the victims are suffering. These are not the perpetrators.”
Later in the debate, O’Malley said he “would disagree somewhat with one of [his] colleagues” by classifying ISIS as “a genocidal threat.”
The O’Malley campaign was not able to reply before Baptist Press’ publication deadline to a question about which other candidate the governor was referencing.
None of the candidates mentioned abortion or same-sex marriage until Clinton’s closing statement, in which she warned electing a Republican president would put “gay rights” “at risk” and potentially lead to withdrawal of government funding from Planned Parenthood.
The next Democratic debate will occur Jan. 17 in Charleston, S.C.