Congressperson Rashida Tlaib made history Jan. 2 when she proudly took the oath of office with her hand on the Koran, wearing a traditional dress from Palestine. Representative Tlaib is the first Palestinian woman elected to the House of Representatives and, with Ilhan Omar, one of two first Muslim congresswomen.
Islamophobes were up in arms, posting outrageous claims that the congressperson from Michigan’s 13th District was disrespecting or even violating the Constitution by choosing the Koran over the Christian Bible.
These backward attitudes, however, do not reflect Tlaib’s constituency. The population of the 13th District is 56 percent African American and more than 70 percent people of color, with the largest Arab population outside of the Middle East. As state representative and Detroit councilperson, Tlaib represented her Southwest Detroit neighborhood, the heart of the city’s Latinx community. She has a large Muslim constituency.
As a congressional candidate, Tlaib — whose seat was previously held by John Conyers — appealed to progressive sentiment. She was arrested during the hotel workers strike here and ran on a record of supporting reproductive rights as a state legislator. Among her popular campaign promises were pledges to push for the impeachment of President Donald Trump and fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Tlaib made front-page news nationwide last week with comments made during a reception held by the liberal group MoveOn. Her exact words were: “We’re gonna go in there and we’re going to impeach the mother—-er.” This drew the ire of Trump and his ilk, but also of moderate Democrats. (Detroit Free Press, Jan. 4)
“This is a person that I don’t know. I assume she’s new,” said Trump, revealing complete ignorance of Tlaib’s groundbreaking achievement in being elected. He accused her of “disrespect” and called her statement “disgraceful.” This is the president who repeatedly displays bigotry against immigrants, people of color, Muslims, women, LGBTQ2S+ people and people with disabilities — and isn’t shy about using swear words.
“You can’t impeach somebody who’s doing a great job,” he boasted, claiming mass popularity. In fact the president has lower approval ratings than every president since Harry Truman.
Tlaib tweeted back: “I always speak truth to power. #unaplogeticallyme.” (Detroit News, Jan. 4)
Two trends in the Democratic Party
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized not only Tlaib’s use of curse words, but also the call for impeachment, saying it would divide the country. Congressional Democrats, including most from Michigan, distanced themselves from the congressperson’s remarks. Liberal news columnists are accusing Tlaib of hurting the Democrats, even making it harder for them to beat Trump in 2020.
More moderate Democrats argue that the Mueller Commission has to complete its investigation before impeachment can be considered. Tlaib’s campaign pledge, however, appealed to millions of working-class and oppressed voters, who have been saying “Not my president” since the 2016 election. This base sent a record number of women, people of color, younger candidates and out LGBTQ2S+ people to Congress.
Many of these voters were activated by the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016. In the midterm primaries they chose new candidates, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of Queens, N.Y., over longtime incumbents favored by the party’s establishment. Ocasio-Cortez denounced Republicans’ “faux outrage” over the curse word.
There is clearly a biased double standard employed here against an Arab Muslim congressperson, who was speaking off the cuff at a reception and not in any official capacity.
The backlash against Tlaib is a rightist reaction to the midterm elections. Revolutionaries should have no illusions that any real, dramatic changes can be made through the bourgeois parliamentary process. However, they should be prepared to oppose any racist, Islamophobic and otherwise bigoted attacks on the right of oppressed people to elect progressive candidates from their communities.