New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

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Lori Lightfoot (C) greets guests at City Hall following her inauguration ceremony on May 20, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)
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Former mayor Rahm Emanuel and his wife Amy Rule are applauded for their service to the city during the inauguration ceremony for Lori Lightfoot at the Wintrust Arena on May 20, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 24 May 2019
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New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

  • The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
  • Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against

Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.

Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.

But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.

However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.

Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.

Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.

He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.

While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.

His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.

The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.

Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.

But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.

Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.

The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.


Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

Updated 34 min 16 sec ago
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Belgium seeks Uighur family in Xinjiang after disappearance

  • The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang
  • Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances

BEIJING: A Belgian diplomat was expected to travel to China’s restive Xinjiang region on Tuesday to confirm the whereabouts of a Uighur family that was escorted from Belgium’s embassy in Beijing by police last month.
The disappearance of the woman and her four children has alarmed her husband, as an estimated one million ethnic Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities are believed to be held in internment camps in Xinjiang.
Abdulhamid Tursun, a political refugee in Belgium, said he has not heard from his family since May 31, a few days after they left the embassy under murky circumstances.
“I am worried about their safety,” he told AFP. “I hope they can safely come be at my side as soon as possible, and our family can reunite.”
Belgium’s decision to dispatch a diplomat to Xinjiang comes as the embassy faces criticism for allegedly enabling Chinese police to take the family back to Xinjiang — where they could face detention.
“The case exposes the additional risk Uighurs in China face even if they want to seek help from foreign governments,” said Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International.
“The Belgian embassy set an extremely bad example of how governments put economic interests above human rights,” he told AFP.
China’s foreign ministry and the Xinjiang government did not immediately respond to AFP requests for comment.
The mother, Horiyat Abula, and her four children traveled to Beijing at the end of May to complete missing paperwork for their family reunification visas.
According to Tursun, his wife and children panicked upon learning it would take “at least three months” for their visas to be approved and refused to leave the embassy.
They were afraid to return to their hotel because police had visited them multiple times since they arrived in Beijing, he explained.
“The police came in the middle of the night, asking why they came to Beijing, when they would return,” he said. “They were very scared, they didn’t sleep all night.”
The embassy offered to accompany Abula and her four children back to their hotel, but they “refused to leave the embassy in a kind of sit-in,” a Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
In an interview published Tuesday, Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders told Le Soir newspaper that the diplomatic police “asked the family to leave the premises” and the situation was explained to the father the next day.
An embassy is not intended to “lodge people” applying for visas, he said.
In the end, Chinese police “escorted them away,” the Belgian ministry spokesman told AFP.
A few days later, Abula and her children were taken away by Xinjiang police, her husband said, and he has not heard from her since.
Reynders told the Belga news agency on Monday that the diplomat would go to the address given by the father to check if “everything is going well” with them.
“My only concern here is that we can reunite the family,” he told Belga.
On Monday the foreign ministry did not have confirmation that they were at home.
The case highlights the barriers Uighurs face in attempting to leave China.
According to human rights groups, authorities in Xinjiang have confiscated passports of Uighurs, making it difficult for them to join their relatives overseas.
Abula and her children too have struggled to obtain passports — an issue that Belgium’s ambassador will take up with China’s director of consular affairs, Reynders told Belga.
Abula applied for a passport in 2017, but never received one, according to receipts seen by AFP.
Tursun believes that the family “took a risk” by traveling outside Xinjiang in the first place.
“If my family then returns to (Xinjiang’s capital) Urumqi, it’s very likely that they will be sent to a concentration camp,” he wrote in March in an email to a non-profit helping the family with their visa application.