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Muslim Women Poised To Make Political History


Turning now to politics, we're going to talk with one woman who could make history this November. Congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib won the Democratic primary for John Conyers' old House seat in Michigan last week. Tlaib is running unopposed and is poised to be one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. She could be joined by Minnesota's state legislator, Ilhan Omar, who won the Democratic primary in her Minneapolis House district on Tuesday. She joins me now from member station WDET in Detroit.

Welcome. Thanks for speaking with me.

RASHIDA TLAIB: Thanks for having me.

SINGH: You're a daughter of Palestinian immigrants, you are Muslim, and you are seeking a seat in Congress at a time of heightened rhetoric from the White House that many Democratic and Republican critics argue are firmly anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim. Do you think your background will make it more of an uphill battle for you to make progress as a lawmaker in this particular political culture?

TLAIB: No. I think my voice is welcomed. You know, for me, it's all anti-American. I mean, many of the policies that I have been, you know, championing around - large corporate tax breaks for for-profit development, the fact that I can see the discriminatory practices come back into the banking industry where less than half of my families in the 13th Congressional District own their own homes.

I see this continued discriminatory practice when it comes to an equity and funding for education. I even have a city in my district that's predominately African-American in Inkster, where they don't even have a school district. So some of those issues, I feel like, go beyond the identity politics. They go beyond Republican versus Democrat. This is about providing for the American families not only in the 13th but across the country that are now not feeling like they're being heard and not feeling like they have a seat at the table.

SINGH: Let's turn to the Democratic leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi. You've said in interviews that if you are elected, you probably will not support Nancy Pelosi for speaker should the Democrats become the majority in the House. Tell me, do you still feel that way?

TLAIB: I do. And it's primarily because people in my district that know that she's the leader (laughter) minority leader in the House - they know - right now, they don't feel that their issues are being addressed. What they do know is that, recently, the issues around education, the issues around worker justice, the issues around even women's rights issues - all those things I think that there - is so important to the families of the 13th Congressional District do not feel like their issues are being reflective in the leadership on all levels.

SINGH: You've been criticized by a number of groups, including the Jewish Democratic Council of America, as you know, for saying that U.S. aid to Israel should be leveraged to promote the value of justice. Tell me more about what you mean by that first.

TLAIB: We do it to states every single day. The federal government does not provide aid to any state that discriminates against someone because of their color, their faith, their ethnicity, their sex and even sexual orientation. We do it all the time to all the states around the country right now in our nation. We should do the same thing to any foreign government that is promoting racism, that is promoting injustice and promoting inequality.

SINGH: Let's look back at U.S. policy on the Middle East under the Obama administration. You - we all had time to assess whether we thought that was successful or not, if it was something to be pursued or not, including the discussions about two-state solutions. So now that you've been able to look back and look at that, what is your assessment of what the Obama administration was trying to pursue?

TLAIB: I don't really fully know what was being pursued. I just knew that it didn't reduce the violence, and it didn't promote peace at that moment. That doesn't mean the people at the table weren't genuinely wanting to get there. I just think that it didn't work. And so I'm going to wait until six months into serving of the 13th Congressional District and understanding fully what is going on on the ground there. I mean, what I hear from my family in Palestine is it's the same type of approach, which is checkpoints, walls, separation, inequality. And it hasn't worked. And when we start talking from a place of values like that, that's when it'll be better for us when we approach this issue around two state versus one state.

SINGH: We've been speaking with Rashida Tlaib. She's the Democratic candidate running to represent Michigan's 13th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She joined me from member station WDET in Detroit.

Thank you very much for joining us.

TLAIB: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF WAKING AIDA'S "MATTED FUR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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