A Huge Win For Those Who Don’t Share Trump’s Twisted Vision Of America

Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. 2018-08-12 (5).png.

DEAN OBEIDALLAH ~~(CNN) To say that the Muslim and Arab-American communities were overjoyed by Rashida Tlaib’s victory in Michigan’s Democratic congressional primary on Tuesday is an understatement. My email inbox and my Facebook newsfeed were overflowing with both Muslim and Arab American organizations cheering her stunning win.

And since Tlaib is running without a Republican opponent in this November’s general election, she’s expected to become the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress. (To date, there have been two Muslim men in Congress, Reps. Keith Ellison (D-Minn) and Andre Carson (D-Ind.))

But Tlaib, who is Muslim and the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, didn’t just score a win for the Muslim and Arab communities on Tuesday. In fact, less than 5% of her congressional district identifies as Arab American. Tlaib’s triumph was a victory for the America I choose to believe in. In a time in which Donald Trump openly demonizes minorities and gins up hate of those who look or pray differently, this was a victory for the American ideals of tolerance and pluralism.
First, though, I want to share as a Muslim American why Tlaib’s success was such a needed boost. This may surprise some, but the anti-Muslim rhetoric during the 2016 presidential campaign didn’t start with Trump. Rather, it began in earnest with then GOP presidential candidate, Ben Carson, who now serves as Trump’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
It was September 2015 when Carson made headlines declaring that a Muslim American should not serve as president because they would be more loyal to their religion than America. Carson added that he didn’t believe Islam was consistent with the US Constitution.
What was the reaction to this comment? Carson surged in the GOP primary polls and raised $1 million dollars in the 24 hours following his bigoted remark.
Trump noticed how well anti-Muslim hate played with the GOP base, commenting just a few weeks later about Carson: “He’s been getting a lot of ink on the Muslims and other things.” Trump then candidly added, “And I guess people look at that and they probably like it. Some people thought they wouldn’t like it, but they probably do.”
It was no coincidence that just a few months later, on December 7, 2015, Trump infamously called for banning an entire religion of over 1 billion people from American soil. “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on,” he told the crowd at his rally.
From there, Trump claimed on the campaign trail that “Islam hates us.” As President, Trump continued ginning up fear of Muslims with his repeated attempts to impose a travel ban from several Muslim majority countries. And last November, Trump even retweeted anti-Muslim videos that had been created by one of the United Kingdom’s most notorious hate groups.
Trump’s drumbeat of demonization of Muslims comes with a human cost. We have seen a 15% spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes in the last year, ranging from attacks on women wearing hijabs to death threats to our places of worship being bombed. And there has been an alarming increase in bullying of Muslim-American students simply for their faith, with more than half of these students reporting bullying incidents in 2017.
But what might surprise some is that despite this climate — or more accurately because of it — there are a record number of Muslim Americans seeking elected office in 2018, with over 90declaring their candidacies. One notable race takes place this Tuesday in Minnesota where State Representative Ilhan Omar, if she wins the Democratic primary, would likely join Tlaib as the second Muslim woman in Congress.


And in Michigan last Tuesday, in addition to Tlaib, two other Muslim Americans were on the ballot seeking Democratic nominations, Fayrouz Saad for Congress and Abdul El-Sayed for the Democratic nomination for governor. While only Tlaib won, both Saad and El-Sayed are in their 30s and are part of the next generation of American Muslims who respond to hate not by cowering in fear, but by becoming more visible in an effort to better define who Muslims are and what they can contribute to our nation.
We are in the midst of a battle for our nation’s soul. On one side, there’s Trump who wants to potentially restrict even legal immigration and who parrots white nationalist talking points when demonizing African-Americans. And on the other side are those who believe in an America that is welcoming and celebrates our diversity. Tlaib’s victory Tuesday is clearly a win for all those who believe in this second vision of America.

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