Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont spoke out against rhetoric that links all Muslims to Islamic extremism. The senator asserted the June 12 Orlando massacre was the fault of shooter Omar Mateen and no one else.
On June 14, Sanders held a press conference outside his campaign headquarters to deliver a response to a speech given by presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump. Trump had suggested that all Muslims are potential threats and doubled down on his proposed immigration and travel bans for Muslims.
Sanders stated there was no way of pinning down exactly what motivated 29-year-old Mateen, who gunned down 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
“Was he motivated by the ideology of some fanatic Islamic organization which believes it is somehow heroic to mow down innocent and defenseless men and women?” Sanders said, according to The Hill. “Was he motivated by homophobia and hatred of the gay community? Was he motivated by some kind of hatred of Latinos? Was he suicidal and wanted to end his life by taking others with him? We may never know the answer to those questions.”
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The Vermont senator called the growing animosity towards American Muslims to be both unfair and bigoted.
“The Muslim people did not commit this act,” Sanders continued. “A man named Omar Mateen did. To blame an entire religion for the acts of a single individual is nothing less than bigotry, and that is not what this country is supposed to be about.”
Mateen had reportedly pledged allegiance to ISIS shortly before law enforcement shot and killed him. Mateen may have expressed his allegiance to the terrorist organization, but reportedly had previously claimed membership with groups such as Al-Qaida and Hezbollah.
Those three organizations are warring with each other and have different ideologies, undercutting the theory that Mateen had been indoctrinated by ISIS or could be classified as a jihadist, The Washington Post reports.
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Trump has responded to the Orlando incident by calling for a ban on Muslims entering the country and increased surveillance of American Muslims. The business mogul recently suggested that third-generation American Muslims are not assimilated.
“It’s almost, I won’t say nonexistent, but it gets to be pretty close,” Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity. “And I’m talking about second and third generation -- for some reason there’s no real assimilation ... There’s a hate that’s going on that’s unbelievable.”
Sanders blasted Trump’s proposals and rhetoric as misleading and bigoted.
“Our goal must not be to allow politicians, Donald Trump or anyone else, to divide us based on where our family came from, the color of our skin or our religion,” Sanders said.
Sanders added that resisting Islamophobia did not mean being soft on terrorism.
“This is a barbaric organization that has caused massive suffering,” Sanders said of ISIS. “Hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East. And let us not forget that most of the people who are suffering and dying as the result of ISIS are Muslims.
"And by the way, it is Muslim troops on the ground today who are taking the fight to ISIS as we speak and pushing them back and defeating them in Iraq and Syria,” Sanders concluded. “Muslim troops.”
Another lawmaker who agrees with Sanders is Republican House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who told reporters he would not support a Muslim travel or immigration ban, even if Trump were elected president.
“This is a war with radical Islam,” Ryan said, according to ABC News. “It’s not a war with Islam. Muslims are our partners. The vast, vast majority around this country and around the world are moderate. They’re peaceful, they’re tolerant.”
Sanders capped off his press conference by voicing support for banning assault weapons, such as the AR-15, the type of firearm that Mateen used during his attack.
“The idea that these types of weapons designed to do one thing and one thing alone -- kill people -- the idea they should be sold and distributed in this country seems to me to be terribly wrong,” Sanders said.