Muslims and Arab Americans in US midterm elections

Immigration is just one of the issues facing the US Congress that are of relevance to the Arab and Muslim world.
Sunday 11/11/2018
Democratic US congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib celebrates with family and friends at her midterm election night party in Detroit, Michigan, on. November 6. (Reuters)
Democratic US congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib celebrates with family and friends at her midterm election night party in Detroit, Michigan, on. November 6. (Reuters)

The November 6 midterm elections in the United States produced many historic firsts, including opening the way for two Muslim-American women to win seats in the US House of Representatives for the first time.

Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American from Michigan, was elected along with Ilhan Omar, a Somali American from Minnesota. Tlaib made history in 2008 when she was the first Muslim American elected to the Michigan state legislature.

Both congresswomen take a very special perspective to the House of Representatives at a time of polarised debate on immigration-related issues. Immigration has been in focus since Donald Trump’s 2016 election as president.

Tlaib, 42, is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants who settled in Detroit. Omar, 37, arrived in the United States at the age of 12 after fleeing her native Somalia and living for years at a refugee camp in Kenya. She is the first Africa-born member of Congress. She succeeds Keith Ellison, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress.

Omar and Tlaib also represent a new generation of progressive Democrats with a record of defending minority rights and opposing drastic restrictions on immigration. After her election victory, Omar said she intended to “serve as a check on the rhetoric of fear and division.”

Immigration was on the minds of voters and it will be a crucial element in the US political debate for years. If 26% of all voters asked selected health care as the most important issue facing the United States, immigration was mentioned by no less than 23% as the most important issue, an Associated Press poll said.

Tlaib is one of eight Democratic and Republican Arab Americans elected or re-elected to the House of Representatives November 6. They include Lebanese-American Donna Shalala, a former secretary of Health and Human Services who valiantly ran for public office for the first time at the age of 77.

Arab-American congressmen re-elected include Republican Darin LaHood from Illinois, Justin Amash from Michigan, Ralph Abraham from Louisiana and Garret Graves, also from Louisiana.

The contribution of Muslim and Arab-American congressmen to the political debate will be closely watched. Their election was legitimately welcomed in their communities and beyond as confirmation there is room for Muslims and Arab Americans in the US political landscape.

Immigration is just one of the issues facing the US Congress that are of relevance to the Arab and Muslim world. The larger question is the role Congress will play in advocating for peace and security in the Middle East and North Africa region.

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