New Arab and Muslim state legislators have many issues to address

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November 24, 2022

A record 12 Arabs and Muslims won seats in the legislatures of six US states in this month’s midterm elections, among a total of more than 80 who won elective office in the country. However, they have a huge burden on their shoulders when it comes to addressing the issues that mainstream America would rather not address about its communities.

These Arab and Muslim legislators will certainly face challenges in trying to advocate for their causes in a sea of non-Arab and non-Muslim colleagues, but they can plant the seeds of important discussions that mainstream Americans often ignore.

They are: Illinois state legislators Abdelnasser Rashid and Nabeela Syed, Georgia’s Nabilah Islam, Ruwa Romman and Farooq Mughal, Minnesota’s Zaynab Mohammed, Ohio’s Munira Abdullahi and Ismail Mohammed, Maine’s Mana Abdi and Deqa Dhalac, and Texas’ Sulemain Lalani and Salman Bhojani.

They can use their platforms as elected members of state legislatures to introduce resolutions and laws that can reverse many of the anti-Arab and anti-Muslim policies that scar America’s claims to respect diversity. The key question will be: Can they win the support and co-sponsorship of their legislative colleagues to take an issue they introduce and move it to the point of public discussion, and then possible approval?

The easiest issue for these legislators to address and gain support for is the need to strengthen the fight against Islamophobia in America, which is on the increase. A recent report from the Council on American-Islamic Relations noted a 9 percent increase in civil rights complaints from Muslims in 2020.

Another issue is the exclusion of Arabs and Muslims from the US Census. For many decades, the census has included ethnic and racial categories — while not asking about religion — with those that are counted benefiting from laws that demand they be given opportunities to improve their chances of being elected, as well as receiving federal and state grants to fund their cultural needs.

Because Arabs are excluded, they do not receive such funding and the government is not obligated to “create” congressional districts that bring together in one district an area’s Arab voting population. Instead, Arab communities are often marginalized, with their voters divided into two, three or four districts, reducing the power of their vote and preventing them from electing people from their community into public office.

Additionally, by not being included in the Census, Arabs cannot see the true depths of how they are victims of racism. Police agencies and governments, for example, tabulate how often Black people, Hispanics, Asians and others who are listed in the Census are arrested or are the victims of crime. Knowing that information creates public awareness of a problem that the government has to address and correct.

One vital issue is the need to force governments at all levels to set aside funding to cover the costs of the studies Arabs and Muslims need to support their business growth, protect their communities and fund public awareness campaigns to educate other Americans about the realities of their lives. These 12 legislators can make arguments to demand that Arabs and Muslims receive their share of monies that are allocated to help other racial groups strengthen their businesses, confront racism and correct false or negative stereotypes.

Of course, the toughest issues facing these legislators involve politics and foreign affairs. The pro-Israel movement, for example, has spent a century building its beliefs into the mainstream consciousness through movies, books and entertainment, strengthening their businesses, confronting anti-Semitism and building a positive public image. One of their concerns is defending Israel against all forms of criticism. That includes the passage of 28 state-level laws that punish Americans who express opinions critical of Israel’s foreign policies. These anti-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions laws prohibit Americans from refusing to do business with Israel, including boycotting the illegal Jewish-only settlement network that pillages Palestinian lands and products through Israel’s illegal military occupation.

They can plant the seeds of important discussions that mainstream Americans often ignore.

Ray Hanania

Of the six states represented by these new Arab and Muslim legislators, four have anti-BDS laws. The key to overcoming these racist prohibitions to American rights lies in the need to be strategic and to build coalitions. Their language has to be moderate and convincing to the public, not driven by emotion or anger.

These state legislators can help educate the public about all of these issues and lay the groundwork for an educated American public that will better understand the truth, rather than continue to be brainwashed by racist haters and pro-Israel propaganda. It will not happen overnight, but the seeds have now been planted and they can grow.

  • Ray Hanania is an award-winning former Chicago City Hall political reporter and columnist. He can be reached on his personal website at Twitter: @RayHanania

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view


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