DUBAI: The likely election of two Muslim women in Tuesday’s Congressional elections will be a new milestone for the US.
Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib is a Democratic candidate who is running unopposed in her Detroit-area riding, while Somali-American Ilhan Omar is a former refugee who won the Democratic primary in her left-leaning Minnesota district.
Previously, the only Muslim member of the US Congress has been Keith Ellison, who has served since 2007.
However, political analysts say the two women will have different priorities.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be of importance to one and the Somali issue to the other, but they clearly won’t be spokeswomen for governments in the region,” said Mark Katz, professor of government and politics at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University.
But for Muslims in the US, it will be an important step. “Muslims are part of society — many people in the US don’t think that — but the fact that they’re going to be there and be part of the system is important, and it makes a huge difference in how various issues are portrayed.”
Katz said that when African-Americans first entered Congress, they were able to speak about the suffering their communities had experienced in ways other people tended not to think about. “So it makes a huge difference for the conversation to even have as a very small number,” he said.
“Having women, in particular, is important. It will be hard to ignore them when they talk about some of these issues”
Given the US role in the world, many say it is crucial that Congress becomes more diverse, better reflecting the diversity of the US population.
“Arabs and Muslims are both misrepresented and under-represented in US politics,” said Safwan Amin, an Iraqi lawyer who recently relocated to Dubai from the US, where he was a fellow at Harvard University.
“It’s about time this was corrected. It also helps change some of the misconception about Arab and Muslim women specifically.”
Amin suggested that if the outcome inspires and encourages Arab and Muslim Americans to become more active in public life, that could eventually have an impact on the region in the long run.