“Islamophobic Undertones of Attacks on Muslim Congressional Challenger to Pelosi”
What easier way to discredit a Muslim man running for Congress than accuse him of misogyny? Everyone assumes it’s true and few bother to check the facts. And if the exculpatory truth ever comes to light, it’s often long after his reputation has been ruined.
That is apparently what has happened to Shahid Buttar, one of America’s rising stars in progressive circles.
A Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, Buttar is running a self-identified insurgency Congressional campaign against the Democratic Party and arguably its most powerful member, Nancy Pelosi.
Buttar proved the naysayers wrong when he came in second with 13% of votes in the primaries, granting him a slot on the November 3, 2020 ballot.
After the March primaries, Buttar changed his campaign staff leadership, hardly unconventional in a political campaign seeking to pivot to the next level. The change proved wise. The campaign raised more than $650,000 in four months, surpassing $1.1 million in total donations.
By June 2020, Buttar’s progressive challenge to Pelosi’s establishment liberalism was featured in major media outlets such as USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, Black Enterprise, and the Los Angeles Times. The number of endorsements by local and national progressive groups rapidly grew.
While the odds of unseating the powerful Nancy Pelosi are low for any challenger, much less a Muslim progressive, Buttar’s position on climate change, racial justice, and universal health care was shifting the policy debate to the left. His campaign slogan “Resistance for Real” is a not so subtle critique of liberals’ meek resistance to Trump’s authoritarianism including Pelosi’s circumscribed impeachment charges.
Buttar’s political rise came to a screeching halt when Elizabeth Croydon, a white woman, made uncorroborated allegations of sexual harassment from more than ten years ago. According to Croydon, Buttar repeatedly expressed romantic interest in her when they lived in a communal home in Washington DC, including allegedly brushing up against her, which she rebuked. She also alleged that Buttar mocked her in a group setting when she voluntarily disclosed her celibacy during previous years.
The ensuing news coverage was straight out of an Islamophobe’s playbook – brown Muslim man accused of harassing and demeaning women is guilty until proven innocent. Without waiting to hear from Buttar if the allegations were true, the media immediately latched on to publish what were effectively political hit pieces on a Muslim immigrant man running for Congress.
Indeed, both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Mission Local published a story the same day Corydon published her accusation against Buttar on the Medium on July 21, 2020. Only two days later on July 23, the Intercept published a story expanding the story beyond the uncorroborated allegation of sexual harassment to misogyny against Buttar’s female campaign staff.
The timing of the stories was uncanny — just as Buttar’s campaign was making significant headway in challenging an increasingly discredited Democratic party among America’s burgeoning progressive voter base.
What was not uncanny, however, was the way Shahid Buttar was treated by the mainstream media.
Rather than grant him the presumption of innocence that any accused person deserves by way of professional, fact-checking investigative journalism, the media did what it has been doing to Muslim men since 9/11—stereotypically portraying them as misogynists and despots without regard to the facts of a particular case.
Had the journalists conducted their due diligence (as they would have if Buttar was a white male), they would have discovered that Croydon’s account of being demeaned for practicing celibacy was bizarrely identical to her former roommate’s experience, Stacey Haine, who had relayed it to Croydon. They also would have failed to find any corroboration of Croydon’s sexual harassment claims after interviewing the numerous other people who lived in the communal home.
While Croydon’s allegations should most certainly be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly, so too should the due process rights of the accused especially when he belongs to a religious minority presumed to be sexist and aggressive.
Adding insult to injury, progressive organizations did not even bother to give Shahid Buttar a meaningful opportunity to respond before withdrawing their endorsements. The Democratic Socialists of America, San Francisco Tenants Union, and Progressive Democrats of America-SF and the Harvey Milk Democratic Club treated Buttar as a disposable commodity—a common experience of minorities in predominantly white spaces.
The speed at which they banished him demonstrates their inability to see Shahid Buttar as a human being that deserves the same dignity, respect, and due process as his white female accuser.
Although Shahid Buttar is the latest victim of American Islamophobia, he is unlikely to be the last. Muslim Americans have learned over the past two decades that Islamophobia infects the ideological spectrum from the explicit hatred of conservatives to the thinly veiled suspicions of liberals and progressives. Hating, suspecting, and marginalizing Muslims continues to be the most acceptable (and in some cases rewarded) form of racism in America.
That is precisely why Shahid Buttar’s position on racial justice is so prescient:
“My existence is resistance.”