The best revenge against Donald Trump stoking the flames of hate against Muslims would be to see his campaign collapse in November while the two Muslim refugees running for office win. That may very well happen.
In Minnesota, there’s 33 year-old Somali-American Ilhan Omar, the Democratic nominee for state representative in district 60B. And in California, there’s 27-year-old Afghan-American Ahmad Rafah, who is seeking a seat on the Santa Clara City Council.
In a time when Trump spews hate about immigrants and claims Muslim refugees are a “Trojan Horse” plotting to destroy our nation, both of these candidates make no bones about the fact that they are Muslims and came to this country as refugees.
Rafah’s website states, in bold print: “I was born in a refugee camp during my parents’ escape from war torn Afghanistan.”
And Omar’s campaign bio explains, “Born in Somalia, Ilhan and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States.”
Despite Trump’s lies, these are what Muslim refugees actually look like. They didn’t come to America to destroy it, they came to escape the horrors of war in the hopes of raising their families in a safe place that offers opportunities. Rafah summed up well what so many refugees feel, “We truly appreciate being here in America and appreciate that the United States accepted me and my family.”
I feel the same. I was born in the United States, but I’m the son of a Palestinian Muslim refugee. During this election cycle, I have reflected several times on what would have happened if Trump had been president when my father was trying to immigrate to America. Would my father have been allowed in? Would he have even wanted to come here given Trump’s hateful words about Muslims? And in turn, what would my life been like if I had been raised in the West Bank, where freedom of movement as well as dreams of a better life are limited by Israeli military checkpoints and a sense of powerlessness?
While neither Omar nor Rafah have run for office before, neither are new to American politics. Rafah worked for Rep. Mike Honda as a tech and business policy adviser and liaison to Santa Clara. Omar recently served as a senior policy aide to a Minneapolis City Council member.
Rafah, like so many Muslims in America, wanted to become a doctor. He was accepted to medical school. But after he became active in community events, he noticed that “no one looked like me, no one else was Muslim, and definitely no one had the name Ahmad.” He added, “I wanted to become more active in politics so that our community’s voice would be represented.”
But he’s also running for another reason. He explained that as a kid growing up in San Diego, which is more conservative than Santa Clara, where he now lives, the toughest day of school was the first one. “That’s the day when teachers would mangle my name and the other students would laugh and mock me,” he told me. And of course, being in middle school there when 9/11 happened didn’t play well with his classmates, who would taunt him about his religion and ethnicity.
“By running for office and hopefully winning, my hope is that no one laughs at or bullies the next Ahmad because that name is now more familiar,” he said.
Both candidates have received broad support from their local Muslim communities. Jaylani Hussein, the head of the Council on American Islamic Relations’ Minnesota chapter, called Omar “an inspiration to members of our community to not only vote but to become active in politics.”
Rafah told me he’s received campaign contributions from “Muslims across America I have never even met.” He added, “They understand the significance of our voice being heard in American politics—especially given Trump’s divisive words.” A silver lining to Trump’s demonization of Muslims has been to finally wake up many in our community about the need to be engaged politically.
Of course, neither is running as a Muslim. Rather, both are running campaigns grounded in progressive agendas predicated on standing up for all Americans, regardless of faith or lack thereof. As Omar put it, “I work for equality and I work to make sure our systems are just for all of us.”
Omar, running as a Democrat in an overwhelmingly Democratic district, is expected to make history as the first Muslim refugee elected to political office.
Rafah is facing a more challenging landscape in his non-partisan race. He’s seeking to unseat an incumbent and has been dogged by trolls online and even a nasty, arguably bigoted campaign flier claiming he’s raising “dark money” from sinister sources. And incredibly, while Santa Clara is a majority minority city, as Rafah explained, only one minority candidate has been elected to the Santa Clara City Council in 150 years.
Win or lose, the political prospects for Omar and Rafah after Election Day are far brighter than those of Trump, who will soon be nothing more than a garbage fire receding in the rearview mirror as our nation moves on.