Campaign rhetoric: The politics of exclusion

Campaign rhetoric: The politics of exclusion January 14, 2008
With us or against us?

As the presidential primary elections come to a head, the campaigns have reached a fever pitch as the candidates on both sides of the fence make a last-ditch effort to win the nomination. One thing that has struck me most is the language used by candidates in an effort to garnish the vote. Specifically, Republican candidates have chosen to employ language of fear and division rather than language of unity and inclusion.

The tone of a campaign sets the tone of a presidency — put simply; the language used by candidates is reflective of the policies he/she will enact. This is why the language used by Republican candidates in the past months is so disturbing. It reflects more of the same misguided policies currently enacted by the Bush Administration — policies that have jeopardized the basic foundations of the U.S. Constitution, diminished America’s influences in the global arena, and economically weakened our country.

The words used by Republican candidates to describe inhuman acts of terrorism wrongly associate those who practice these horrendous acts with the 5 million Americans and 1 billion people throughout the world who practice Islam. This has been in direct contrast to Democrats, who have opted to use language that does not make such an association.

Rudy Giuliani is among the worst culprits. In effort to use scare tactics to keep his numbers up, Giuliani often paints a picture of Muslims as violent radicals and criticizes Democrats who refrain from linking Islam with terrorism, saying they are on the defensive in the war on terror. He has reinforced this association throughout the campaign trail, saying in Milwaukee for instance, “I believe we have to be on offense against Islamic terrorism,” and again in New Hampshire, “Islamic terrorists… want to kill us”.

It is unfortunate that Giuliani is not alone among the Republican candidates. Other Republican candidates have coined yet additional terms that convey a lack of understanding about Islam. For instance, Mike Huckabee explained that “Islamic jihadists, would strap a bomb to the belly of their own child, march him into a crowded room, set the detonator and kill innocent people.”

Mitt Romney’s rhetoric suffers from yet a different problem. Romney states on his website that “the defeat of this radical and violent faction of Islam must be achieved through a combination of American resolve, international effort, and the rejection of violence by moderate, modern, mainstream Muslims,” completely neglecting that modern mainstream Muslims already do reject terrorism. Perhaps this is why his campaign talked of creating “an effort to help move Islam toward modernity.”

The Republican campaign model is problematic in that it links Muslims with a fringe minority who has manipulated the religion so much so that it should cease to be called Islam.

In contrast, the Democratic candidates have not shied away from the issue of terrorism but have opted to leave religious affiliation out when labeling terrorists. Hillary Clinton has described terrorists as “global terrorists” and “a small band of terrorists who are intent upon foisting their way of life and using suicide bombers and suicidal people to carry out their agenda.” Barack Obama has called terrorists “genuine enemies [out there] that have to be hunted down, networks have to be dismantled” and Bill Richardson has spoken generally of “international terrorism,” thus refraining from creating a religious association. Similarly, Senator Chris Dodd has used the term “stateless terrorism” and John Edwards said there “are dangerous people and dangerous leaders in the world that America must deal with and deal with strongly.” In analyzing the rhetoric used by candidates for the upcoming elections it is clear that there is a fundamental difference between Republicans and Democrats.

Democratic candidates use language that reflects an understanding of the complex problem of global terrorism and seeks a policy to address this challenge that is inclusive of traditional American values, respects every citizen, and resonates with Muslim communities globally. This type of policy will not only uphold America’s values but will make significant contributions in bridging the growing divide between the United States and many of its key Muslim allies.

Republican candidates running for office have thus far followed in the foot steps of the current president by resorting to overt scare tactics in an effort to garnish the vote. This does not serve to the betterment of the political arena, either globally or domestically, and inevitably will continue to widen the gulf between the United States and Muslim states and communities strategically necessary to fight terrorism.

Simply put, Americans deserve a political framework that meshes with the values of this country’s policies and that will not continue to jeopardize the basic foundations of the US Constitution, diminish America’s influences in the global arena, and weaken our economy. Our national security depends on a president who understands the true nature of the threat and who builds strong coalitions within the United States and between the United States and our allies. We have already seen the results of a tough-talking president who lacks an understanding of the security threat and enacts destructive policies. It has become quite clear early on in the primaries that only one party in the primaries has full comprehension of exactly what that entails. That is the Democratic Party.

I leave you with words from Rudy Giuliani:

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed this about the Democratic debates, but they never use the word ‘Islamic terrorist. Ever. They have a very hard time getting those words out of their mouth. I think it’s quite clear to me now; having listened to seven or eight of their debates, that they think it’s politically incorrect to say the words. I don’t know exactly who they think they’re offending. I don’t know what kind of view of the world they have. I understand when I say ‘Islamic terrorism’ … I’m offending exactly who I want to offend and making it clear to them that we stand against them.”

Rabab Fayad is a Middle East consultant in Washington, DC. She formerly served as deputy national director of ethnic outreach for the Kerry-Edwards 2004 presidential campaign. This piece originally appeared at

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