Bernie Sanders Visits Mosque to Talk Security, and GOP “Demagogues”

“They want us to believe that the average Muslim is a terrorist.”

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, center, flanked by Imam Talib Shareef, left, and Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., right, speaks during an interfaith roundtable hosted by at Masjid Muhammad, the Nation's Mosque in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Emily Schultheis
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Emily Schultheis
Dec. 16, 2015, 4:59 p.m.

Look­ing to keep pace in a cam­paign where se­cur­ity and ter­ror­ism have taken cen­ter stage, Bernie Sanders took his mes­sage to a new set­ting Wed­nes­day: he vis­ited a mosque.

On Wed­nes­day, the Ver­mont sen­at­or told a small crowd at Wash­ing­ton’s Masjid Muhammad (also known as “the Na­tion’s Mosque”) that “dem­agogues” try­ing to di­vide the coun­try are act­ing in “shame­ful” ways in the wake of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks in Par­is and San Bern­ardino, Cal­if. He then stressed the strides the coun­try has made to over­come hatred and dis­crim­in­a­tion in the past.

“Let me be­gin by stat­ing the ob­vi­ous: there is enorm­ous anxi­ety and fear in this coun­try,” Sanders said. “Our people are deeply con­cerned—justly so—about the threats of in­ter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism.”

Sit­ting at a table with a co­ter­ie of re­li­gious lead­ers from around DC—Im­am Talib Shareef of the Na­tion’s Mosque, Rep. Keith El­lis­on (D-Minn.), Rev. Re­gin­ald Green, Rabbi Batya Stein­hauf, and Chap­lain Ab­dul-Rasheed Muhammad of the De­part­ment of Vet­er­ans’ Af­fairs—Sanders spoke about the his­tory of bigotry and urged Amer­ic­ans to avoid let­ting fear di­vide them.

“It’s no secret that throughout the world and in our own coun­try we have seen cen­tur­ies of bigotry and in­tim­id­a­tion, some­times with un­speak­able res­ults,” Sanders said, list­ing the Holo­caust, Rwanda and Bos­nia as prime ex­amples of times hate­ful rhet­or­ic has caused un­ne­ces­sary and tra­gic vi­ol­ence.

He de­nounced the re­cent rhet­or­ic of “dem­agogues” when it comes to Muslim im­mig­ra­tion, call­ing out GOP real es­tate mogul Don­ald Trump by name and say­ing the anti-Muslim com­ments have promp­ted an in­crease in hate speech across Amer­ica.

“Now, at this mo­ment with all of the fears and anxi­et­ies people have about ter­ror­ism and about the eco­nomy, there are dem­agogues out there: people like Don­ald Trump who are once again try­ing to di­vide us up,” he said. “They want us to be­lieve that people from Mex­ico com­ing in­to this coun­try are rap­ists and crim­in­als. They want us to be­lieve that the av­er­age Muslim is a ter­ror­ist.”

Oth­ers on the pan­el echoed Sanders’s con­cern that “bigotry” has found a place in the head­lines in re­cent weeks. Green, one of the Free­dom Riders of the Civil Rights move­ment, lamen­ted the fact that “we would be at this point in time where bigotry is rear­ing up its ugly head again.” “We can­not af­ford to out of ig­nor­ance let our lives be gov­erned by the ig­nor­ance es­poused,” he ad­ded.

Ter­ror­ism and na­tion­al se­cur­ity is­sues aren’t at the core of Sanders’s mes­sage, and as the na­tion­al con­ver­sa­tion has shif­ted away from eco­nom­ic is­sues and to­ward se­cur­ity he has struggled to main­tain mo­mentum. But the sen­at­or has come out force­fully in fa­vor of al­low­ing Syr­i­an refugees in­to the coun­try, an is­sue he’s re­peatedly spoken about in re­cent weeks—and in the days since Trump pro­posed his ban on Muslim im­mig­ra­tion, Sanders has made that a fre­quent top­ic as well.

In a nod to the eco­nom­ic pop­u­list is­sues that form the cent­ral ar­gu­ment of Sanders’s cam­paign, he on Wed­nes­day also briefly spoke about the eco­nom­ic is­sues fa­cing fam­il­ies in the United States. “They are also wor­ried about the state of the eco­nomy and about the fu­ture of their chil­dren,” he said. “They are wor­ried as to why they are work­ing longer hours and why they find it harder and harder to re­tire with dig­nity.”

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