The dust has settled on the US midterm elections. The outcome is neither bleak for the Democrats nor too disappointing for American Muslims. Not a single Pakistani-American made it to Capitol Hill. Yet, many of them have secured some other important portfolios across the country. And for that, they owe a lot to US President Donald Trump who should be given full credit for bringing them out of their deep sleep.
The winning tally of Pakistani-Americans is definitely not a true representation of the 1.5 million strong communities. But it a clear sign of the realisation of their potential.
In the midterms, an unprecedented number of Pakistani-Americans tried their luck. It is no surprise that not a single one of them could win from the Republican platform. The most pleasant thing is the number of women who successfully contested their seats.
Hasan Jalisi, a Democrat, remained the only person to secure his Baltimore state assembly bench for the second consecutive term. A BVS High School boy who graduated from Dow has carved his political career in a state that has a total population of around 15,000 Pakistani-Americans. After getting himself gelled in other communities, Jalisi is aiming for Congress next.
Afzal Agha, a Republican, lost his bid for New Jersey’s 10th Congressional District in the US House. He was the only Pakistani to advance from the primaries. In a Democrat stronghold, he bagged 10 percent of the total number of votes. Only a miracle can give a lifeline to his political journey as he had lost another district in 2016 as well.
Ali Sajjad Taj, a Democrat, unsuccessfully tried his luck for the California State Assembly. Taj was first elected to the Artesia City Council back in 2013 and went on to become mayor. For him, it was little too early to vie for the bigger slot. There is little to worry about as he has retained his membership in the council. Born in Lahore and qualified as a financial adviser, young Taj has a long way to go. He is again building bridges to make way for the state-level elections.
Pakistani-American women have also shown their political acumen. Out of four council members in California, two are women. Sabina Zafar, a tech executive, successfully ran her campaign in San Ramon. Community services have paid her the dividend. Her journey started when she campaigned for congressman Eric Swalwell. Soon, she became a member of the transportation advisory committee.
Sabina hails from Rawalpindi. Politics is in her blood as she is the daughter of Shahid Zafar who was the minister of state for production in Benazir Bhutto’s first cabinet. Her father had switched sides to join the PML-N. But there is a chance for Sabina to follow in his footsteps as California is the Larkana of Democrats.
Affiliated with the Democratic Party, Farah Khan is another incumbent. She has managed to win a seat in the Irvine City Council on a non-partisan basis. Lahore-born Farah started her career from the real grass root level. She went up the ladder right from the elementary school Parent-Teacher Association. Before her unsuccessful first bid for a city council seat in 2016, she had also served on the Community Service Commission.
Despite having helped the local community since 1994, Javed Ellahie is a late-comer to politics. For years, he remained contented as a delegate to the California Democratic Convention. This year, finding everything to his favour, Ellahie made his way to the Monte Sereno City Council. As an astute attorney of the US Supreme Court, he believes that taking part in elections is a tactful game. A Karachiite who moved to US in the late 1960s, Ellahie’s success was the result of outreaching other communities.
Along with state and council seats, Pakistani-Americans have also won some other important posts. Rabeea Collier is elected as a judge for the Texas district court. Coming this far wasn’t easy. She had contested for the same position in 2016, but lost in a primary runoff. Rabeea’s father had migrated from Lahore five decades ago. It was dedication and determination that kept Rabeea moving and enabled her to win votes. Now, she looks forward to transitioning the bench with a firm commitment to upholding rule of law while ensuring everyone is treated with respect and dignity.
There are many Pakistani-Americans who couldn’t make it through the primaries. Tahir Javed was a Democrat hopeful from Texas. He burnt a lot of money only to bag 20 percent of the votes. Asif Mahmood, who changed horses in midstream, met the same fate. First, he tried his luck as lieutenant governor but soon realised that it was a difficult undertaking. When he opted for insurance commissioner, he was already too late. Although he lost the race, he managed to secure 846,023 votes – an unprecedented for a South Asian American.
Both Tahir and Asif were very close to Hillary Clinton and had raised millions of dollar for her unsuccessful presidential bid. When it came to endorsing them, she shied away, leaving them to swim alone at high tide. Both had large constituencies and it was a race against time to reach every voter. There were so many familiar names like James, John and Roberts that Asif and Tahir were nobodies for a traditional voter. Without getting endorsements from an influential figure like Hillary, the result was obvious.
However, Trump’s presidency has proved to be a blessing in disguise for Pakistani-Americans. The community is no longer left as a mere bystander. The young generation is also being encouraged to participate in school and community-level politics. Some of them have already taken part as volunteers. Former council members are also gearing up. Three-time elected mayor of Paris, Texas, Dr Arjumand Hashmi is now eyeing the State Senate.
In the midterms, 54 Muslims have entered various legislative bodies. Andre Carson is strengthened by Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib and Somalian American Ilhan Omar. Both of these women have made history to reach Congress.
Thirteen Muslims have made it to state assemblies. Young Afghan refugee Safiya Wazir defeated four-term Republican incumbent in New Hampshire.
Sheikh Rahman, a Democrat of Bangladeshi origin, has reached Georgia State Senate unopposed. Republican Aboul Khan of the same heritage has made it to the New Hampshire House of Representatives for the third time.
Out of a dozen Indian-Americans who reached state assemblies, Democrat Mohammad Mujtaba made his way to the North Carolina Senate. Abbas Ali’s fate is subject to recount. But he is destined to become the only Muslim legislator of New Mexico as he has a good lead over his rival.
Hodan Hassan and her Somali fellow Mohamud Noor will knock in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Another African-American Nasif Majeed will join North Carolina. It will also be a tribute to his ancestors who were brought to America as slaves. Abdullah Hamoud, who is the son of a Lebanese immigrant, has earned the distinction of being the first Arab-American Muslim elected to represent Michigan.
Whatever successes Pakistani-Americans or American Muslims have achieved in the US midterm elections are the result of a blue wave that was generated by young Democrats. The tectonic shift is also taking place because the Republican Party is being decimated by its very leader. In another two years, United States will once again go to the polls. All 435 seats in the House and 34 of the 100 seats in the Senate will be up for grab, not to mention the prime presidential elections. It is time for deep thought and a critical analysis.
The writer is a senior journalistassociated with Geo News.