WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent, addressing several thousand Muslims Americans at the 56th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, became the first Democratic presidential candidate to castigate India for its recent actions in Kashmir calling it “unacceptable” and urging New Delhi to immediately, lift the “communications blockade” imposed on the only Muslim-majority state in the country.
Obviously in an effort to court the Muslim American voting bloc, Sanders, who is one of the top tier Democratic presidential contenders, who has remained in the top three behind former Vice President Joe Biden, asserted that “the U.S. government must speak out boldly in support of international humanitarian law and in support of a UN-backed peaceful resolution that respects the will of the Kashmiri people.
“I am also deeply concerned about the situation in Kashmir, where the Indian government has revoked Kashmir’s autonomy, cracked down on dissent and instituted a communications blockade,” he said.
Sanders, taking the Indian government to task, argued that “the crackdown in the name of security is also denying the Kashmiri people access to medical care,” and claimed that “even many respected doctors in India have acknowledged that the Indian government-imposed restrictions on travel are threatening the life-saving care that patients need.”
Last month, President Donald Trump, during his meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the G-7 Summit in Biarritz, France, acquiesced to Modi’s contention that Kashmir is a bilateral issue between India and Pakistan and that he was satisfied that Modi has gotten the situation in Kashmir under control.
According to the organizers of the convention, ISNA had invited several of the Democratic presidential candidates, but only Sanders and Julian Castro, the former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in the Obama administration had accepted the invitation and showed up to address the convention.
Several political observers were convinced that it was Sanders’ Pakistani-American campaign manager Faiz Shakir, who probably persuaded the 77-year-old senator to speak at the ISNA convention and endear himself to the growing Muslim American population that has been estimated to number anywhere from 5-6 million, of which at least 20 percent either hail from or have South Asian roots.
Sanders, who was introduced by Shakir, received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, which was punctuated by sustained applause by the nearly 6,000 attendees who attended the convention on Aug. 31, particularly when he promised the audience that if elected president he would immediately end President Donald Trump’s so-called Muslim ban and also go after those to commit hate crimes and violence against the Muslim community in the U.S. and designate them as domestic terrorists.
“We must speak out when we have a president and an administration who believe — and I quote — that ‘Islam hates us,’” he said, recalling the comment Trump made while campaigning for president in 2016. “We must speak out at hate crimes and violence targeted at the Muslim community and call it what it is-- domestic terrorism.”
Besides slamming India for its actions in Kashmir, Sanders also pilloried Saudi Arabia and Iran, particularly for the war in Yemen where thousands of innocent civilians have been killed by the arbitrary bombing by Riyadh and Teheran who have made Yemen “one of their theatres of conflict.
“As you know, the United States has been backing the brutal government of Saudi Arabia, whose intervention in that civil war has led to this humanitarian crisis where millions are at risk of starvation in what could be the worst famine in modern history,” he said, and also bemoaned the U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, where the Trump administration has backed the Saudi-led coalition against the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.
In April 2019, Trump vetoed a bill authored in the Senate by Sanders and in the House by Rep. Ro Khanna, California Democrat that sought to end US support for the Saudi-led war effort.
Incidentally Khanna, along with another Indian-American lawmaker Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat, are two of Sanders’ most ardent supporters, who endorsed him over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Currently, Khanna serves as co-chair of the 2020 Sanders campaign for President.
Last month, Jayapal, the first Indian-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and now the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus said she’s “deeply troubled” over the mass arrests in Kashmir, and called for “transparency” by New Delhi in the aftermath of its scrapping the special status for Kashmir.
In a tweet on Aug. 24, she said, “Deeply troubled by report of Indian Govt’s arrests of 2,000 in Kashmir. This on top of reported plans for large-scale government detention camps for Muslims.”
She argued that “using fear and hyper-patriotism to suppress dissent is as detrimental in India as it is in America.
“Democracy requires transparency, due process and freedom of assembly and speech,” Jayapal argued, and added, “These are absolutely essential, even in the most complex of situations.”
Jayapal, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, also attached a New York Times article on her Twitter account that reported that the whereabouts of the people rounded up in Kashmir since Aug. 5 after the announcement by the Indian government of its decision to revoke Article 370 remained unknown.
In his remarks, Sanders also chastised “political elites in both the Republican and Democratic parties” for pursuing “endless wars and interventions,” and declared that unlike Trump, who has “an affection for authoritarian regimes around the world,” he “would make democracy and human rights a priority for the United States of America.”
Sanders also pledged that as U.S. president, he would hold China to account for its persecution of the Uighurs in Xinjiang province.
Castro, in his remarks also pledged to overturn Trump’s travel ban, which targets several Muslim-majority countries, vowed to create a vastly more welcoming environment for Muslims in the United States.
He said, “It begins at home by saying that you are full partners in American progress,” and added, “The fact is, as I know, that Muslim Americans for generations have been part of the fabric of our American family. They have helped make America the great nation it is, and we need to fully embrace it. Too often in our country’s history, the message to the Muslim American community has been that somehow you’re the enemy or you’re the problem, and I completely disagree with that.”