Democratic National Convention: Gaslighting, Islamophobia, and Other Forms of Chicanery

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell. (Photo: Video Grab)

By Benay Blend

This year’s Democratic National Convention (DNC) is indeed a “convention like no other,” as it is being billed by CNN. Instead of reaching out to the party’s progressive base, reports Ryan Bort, Joe Biden is striving “to reach as far back into the past, and to the right” as far as he possibly can.

For example, Colin Powell, George W. Bush’s Republican secretary of state who was partly responsible for America’s invasion of Iraq, enjoyed more air time than Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), co-sponsor of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s resolution defending boycotts, a document that has been interpreted as support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

In his speech, Powell referred to Biden’s values:

“On Day One he will restore America’s leadership and our moral authority. He’ll be a president who knows America is strongest when, as he has said, ‘We lead both by the power of our example and the example of our power.’”

Aside from equating morality with strength, Powell’s performance was a continuance of the gaslighting that he has perfected in the past. Defined as a manipulation of information designed to make the victim question his/her own sanity, gaslighting became part of Powell’s repertoire as far back as his fabrication of information before the UN in 2003 when he made the case for the Iraq war.

Yet two years ago during an event at Creighton University in Canada, Powell warned that the United States has become a society based on “lies,” creating a discourse that hurts our image abroad. For anyone who remembers Powell’s UN speech, his appearance two years ago, and again at the DNC, must have at best been confusing.

If Powell’s endorsement signals a right-wing shift for the DNC, the campaign’s denouncement of Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour over her support for BDS falls into line with Biden’s support for Israel.

As Ali Harb recounts, Sarsour was a strong supporter of the DNC. “The Democratic party is not perfect, but it is absolutely our party in this moment,” she said, stressing that in order to attract Muslim voters, the Democrats should do the following: ensure representation, treat Muslims as a decisive voting bloc in swing states and reach out to them in their communities.

Hours later, the Biden campaign disavowed her.

Right-wing and Zionist outlets, as well as the Donald Trump campaign, followed suit.

Muslim Americans who are following the campaign saw a different story. Already angry at lack of representation at the convention, they questioned whether the DNC deserves their unqualified support. For example, political analyst Iram Ali tweeted in response:

“There are still no Muslim speakers at the Dem Convention. But here’s the guy who sold the Iraq War as Secretary of State being featured. This isn’t about building a Big Tent. This is actively spiting your base bc you know we have no other option. It’s sick & inhumane. Period.”

The reality that the DNC welcomed Powell (responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis), but shunned Sarsour (an activist who opposes the Occupation) shows the depths of Islamophobia in a party intent on siphoning off Trump voters in November.

“The Democratic Convention has done more to pander to Republicans in this first hour,” retorted Ali, “than it has to communities directly harmed by Donald Trump’s policies & its own base.”

The problem with the “big tent” approach is that the performers with the loudest voices usually take up the largest amount of space, crowding out those who really do not fit in.

“The Democratic Party will say we are a ‘big tent’. ‘Big tent’ means that you are going to have to come to terms with having people in your party that you don’t agree with; that is what a big tent means,” snapped Linda Sarsour, thus reiterating what is missing under in Biden’s entourage.

While a group of Palestinian-American Democratic delegates demanded an “immediate retraction” of the campaign’s statement against Sarsour, no apology was forthcoming. Instead, its spokesperson reiterated support for Arab and Muslim communities (especially those in Michigan who have the numbers to sway the state—or not?) but failed to mention Sarsour at all.

“This disavowal of Linda Sarsour reeks of misogyny, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian bigotry. It provides a false shield for Israel’s human rights abuses,” Palestinian American delegates recorded in their statement.

All of this should have meaning, too, for Native Americans who, like Palestinians, are Indigenous to the land but have little voice in how that land is governed.

Watching Indigenous leaders speaking at the DNC, Justine Teba (Santa Clara and Tesuque Pueblo), an organizer for The Red Nation, ponders their power to make change. She explains it this way:

“Settler colonialism is the process where colonizers take over a land already occupied by Indigenous People, occupy it with settlers by all means necessary, like genociding the Indigenous People in the way, and the settlers ultimately become the “new” native.”

Given this paradigm, she asks others to “imagine being an Indigenous Person in this construct and then voting in it as if that’s going to do anything at all.”

It’s very “quiet,” she concludes, “normalized, and we can’t even see it, nor are we told about it,” and so in this way diversity becomes a substitute for substantive change.

While the Biden/Harris forces renew their allegiance to Israel, that regime has been bombing the Gaza Strip for ten consecutive nights. Moreover, Gaza-based journalist Wafaa Aludaini reported to the Palestine Chronicle that due to lack of fuel the area is down to four hours of electricity per day.

Because of all of these punitive measures—fuel cuts, night-time raids, and the long-running blockade—homes, businesses and, most serious, hospitals are in crisis.

If the Biden tent is truly to be inclusive, then is there not room to decry Israeli measures, unless of course some lives are simply disposable than others?

“Don’t think you can viciously smear a prominent member of our community – one who has been tirelessly working for social justice for all communities – then talk about and expect our support,” wrote Palestinian-American activist Huwaida Arraf in response to the party’s non-apology.

If not under the big tent, then, where is there to go?

“Dare to fight dare to win, the structure we need to live with dignity does not exist so we must build it ourselves, we must liberate ourselves,” says Justine Teba. For her, and increasingly for other too, it’s the only thing that matters.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

– Benay Blend earned her doctorate in American Studies from the University of New Mexico. Her scholarly works include Douglas Vakoch and Sam Mickey, Eds. (2017), “’Neither Homeland Nor Exile are Words’: ‘Situated Knowledge’ in the Works of Palestinian and Native American Writers”. She contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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