Palestinian American poised to serve as first Muslim woman in US Congress
WASHINGTON - The daughter of Palestinian immigrants won an election August 7 that will allow her to become the first Muslim woman to serve in the US Congress.
Rashida Tlaib, a 42-year-old US-born attorney, won a primary election against five other Democrats to represent a portion of Detroit, Michigan, in the US House of Representatives. The formal election for the seat is November 6 but, because Tlaib faces no Republican opponent, she is effectively guaranteed a place in the House of Representatives for a 2-year term beginning in January.
Tlaib staked out a position as a vocal critic of US President Donald Trump and an advocate for liberal policies such as protecting social welfare programmes, promoting labour unions and supporting gay rights. Her election drew more excitement from liberal groups than from US Muslims and Arab Americans.
Liberal filmmaker Michael Moore celebrated Tlaib’s victory on Twitter, writing: “She’s a Palestinian-American, she’s a Democratic Socialist but most importantly, she has the heart & soul & courage to lead us to a better day.”
Although Tlaib spent six years as a member of the Michigan House of Representatives, she is perhaps best known for barging into a campaign speech Trump was giving in Detroit in August 2016 and heckling him along with 12 other women before security removed her from the hall.
A video shows Tlaib standing up at a luncheon of the Detroit Economic Club, yelling towards the stage where Trump was speaking and jabbing her finger at him before two men took her by the arms and pulled her out.
“I think that was the most patriotic thing you could ever do — disrupt somebody that doesn’t believe in our Constitution, that doesn’t believe that women shouldn’t be sexually harassed in the workplace, that doesn’t believe my son as a Muslim could be president of the United States,” Tlaib said after the incident. “He [Trump] doesn’t love us. He doesn’t love Detroit. He don’t love nobody that isn’t Donald Trump, period.”
Interviewed on CNN after winning the August 7 primary, Tlaib was humble and smiled when asked how it felt to be the first Muslim woman elected to Congress. “It feels like a tonne of bricks,” she said.
Noting the large black population in her district, Tlaib said voters “have really truly believed in what I stand for, which is really believing that everyone deserves to live in a just fair society.”
Born and raised in Detroit, Tlaib is the oldest of 14 children whose mother was born near Ramallah and whose father is from outside Jerusalem and who went to the United States and worked on an assembly line in an automobile plant.
Tlaib served from 2009-14 in the Michigan House of Representatives and then worked as a lawyer for a nonprofit agency that gives free legal representation to workers. She and her husband have two children.
Detroit is the largest city in Michigan, which has the highest concentration of Arab Americans of any US state. There are 223,000 Arab Americans in Michigan, a state of 10 million, with roots in Lebanon, Syria, the Palestinian territories, Egypt or Iraq, the Arab American Institute said.
Arab Americans have become increasingly aligned with the Democratic Party in recent years and overwhelmingly supported Hillary Clinton over Trump in the 2016 presidential election, an institute poll indicated.
Although Tlaib will be the first Muslim woman and first Palestinian-American woman in the US Congress, Muslim and Palestinian-American men have had prominent positions in the legislature. Keith Ellison, who also grew up in Detroit, was the first Muslim in Congress after he was elected in 2006. He is now deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee. There is one other Muslim — Andre Carson, a Democrat from Indiana — in Congress.
There are 59 Arab-American candidates running for political office this year in the United States, the institute said. Abdul el-Sayed ran for governor in Michigan — and would have been the first Muslim governor in the country — but lost in the Democratic Party primary on August 7.