Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley has apparently become the first 2016 presidential candidate to visit a mosque and stand with American Muslims at time of increasingly hateful rhetoric about the religion.
“I wanted to be here to be present with you, in solidarity in these challenging times,” O’Malley told the congregation after their mid-day prayers. O’Malley’s campaign says he’s the first candidate to make such a visit since the start of the campaign season last spring. Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said he believes O’Malley is the only candidate to have visited a mosque during this campaign.
The San Bernadino shootings have increased concern about the reach of Islamist terror, and the US political discourse on Islam has turned ugly, with some groups and politicians collapsing the distinction between the religion and radical groups who twist it to their ends. Donald Trump, the businessmen turned surprise Republican presidential front-runner, called for a ban on Muslim immigration to the US due to their ”great hatred” toward Americans.
Though some of his rival Republicans have criticized Trump’s position, none have discounted him as a potential nominee in their party. And while the leading Democratic candidates, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senator Bernie Sanders, condemned his proposal, neither has held an event with the Muslim community since violence in San Bernadino.
“In these times where fear and division is in the air, it is easy for unscrupulous politicians or hate preachers—no nation is immune from the scourge of hate preachers—to turn us upon ourselves,” O’Malley said. ”That sort of language that you hear from Donald Trump is not the language of America’s future…my Muslim neighbors make America strong.”
O’Malley spoke at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from his home state of Maryland. His remarks focused on the need to unite Americans across religious and ethnic boundaries in the face of challenges like ISIL, and the important roles played by Muslims in US society. A Muslim veteran, Rasheed Hamdan, also spoke, discussing the more than 5,000 Muslims serving in the US military.
Many national security experts have underscored the importance of not dividing Muslims from the rest of the population because it plays into the polarizing ideology promoted by Islamist extremists and creates a more receptive environment for radicalization, while reducing trust between Muslims and law enforcement. The US has traditionally done a better job if integrating Muslim immigrants than European nations, but that performance has been tested by rising nativist rhetoric.
O’Malley’s somewhat visionless campaign for the Democratic nomination has not gained traction among voters against Clinton’s apparent inevitability and Sanders’ rise as a left-wing favorite. That he is the only candidate to make a show of support for US Muslims may be a sign that politicians with more to lose see the association as a potential negative. It’s a far cry from President George W. Bush’s visit to a mosque six days after the 9/11 attacks.
“The world has never needed America more to act like America than right now,” O’Malley said.