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11/6 has become a landmark date in Muslim American history

The Azeri Times

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11/6 has become a landmark date in Muslim American history

There are some dates that are forever etched in the minds of Muslim Americans – dates that live more in infamy or misery, marking moments of unprecedented scapegoating or fear, anxiety and the collective bracing of backlash. 9/11 and 11/9 rush to mind, numbers that memorialise two days when everything changed for Muslim Americans – the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, DC and the election of an orange-skinned man who rode on a wave of Islamophobia all the way into the White House.

Now, 11/6 not only stands apart from those dates, but directly counters the evils and ills they directed at 8 million Muslims that call the United States home. On November 6, 2018, two Muslim American women officially made history. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat out of Minnesota, soundly defeated her Republican opponent to claim a US Congressional seat. Two states over to the east, Rashida Tlaib overwhelmed two contestants in Michigan’s 13th congressional district to claim her place in Washington, DC. 

Two Muslim women are headed to US Congress, a place they have never been a part of. And in the aftermath of their historic wins, the collective prayer of “Please don’t be Muslim” that follows every terror attack was replaced with “I’m so proud to be Muslim”, uttered by Muslims across the US.

Two Muslim American women, one a daughter of a Palestinian refugee and the other a refugee herself, made history by becoming the first Muslim American congresswomen in American history. Their transformative feat cannot be timed any better, converging with a moment when Islamophobia has never been more intense in Washington, and the collective morale of Muslim Americans in dire need of a glimpse of hope.

Their stories are equally profound, and a direct blow to the white supremacist vision summoned to the fore by Trump and the legion of candidates that followed his lead. Tlaib grew up in Southwest Detroit, a predominantly Latinx and Black community sprinkled with Arab families, like her own, who embraced the blue-collar culture of the city.

Omar found safe haven from her country’s civil war as a refugee in Kenya, ultimately settling in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1995, which eventually became the home of the most populous and thriving Somali community in the United States.

From the Middle East to the Midwest and from the Horn of Africa to “Little Mogadishu”, Tlaib and Omar grew up in cities that simultaneously represent the American heartland and Muslim America. Tlaib’s Detroit is widely regarded as an Arab and Muslim American capital, with towns like Dearborn and Hamtramck boasting minarets in their skylines and established and immigrant Muslim communities on the ground. Omar’s Minneapolis is a vivid and lurid ballad of Muslim life, replete with Somali sisters and brothers working in the airport, a string of exclusively Somali malls standing alongside American strip malls, and the routine perils of FBI surveillance converging with the mundane routine of everyday life.

11/6 has become a landmark date because of who Tlaib and Omar are, not what they became with their victories. They are both archetypes of the communities they hail from, and the quintessentially Arab and Muslim, and Somali and Muslim, narratives integral to the stories of Detroit and the Twin Cities. Seconds after declaring victory in her hotly contested primary, Tlaib’s mother draped her in the Palestinian flag as she thanked her grandparents in the West Bank, surrounded by a diverse sea of supporters, including myself, in Detroit’s Northwest side. 

Tlaib was, at once, unapologetically Palestinian and Muslim, wed with that quintessentially Detroit drive that motivated her to knock on thousands of doors seeking support during her campaign and ultimately knock down a wall in Washington, DC that made her the first Palestinian and Muslim congresswoman in American history.

Omar, the first Somali congresswoman in a state home to approximately 100,000 of her countrymen and women, braved freezing, xenophobic and unprecedented terrain to join Tlaib. “We’re going to Washington everyone!” she proclaimed, surrounded by a community of Somali immigrants, who travelled the same path that she did, and their children who are now inspired to follow in her footsteps.

Omar, a progressive supporter of “single-payer healthcare, tighter gun restrictions and more expansive immigration policies”, harmonises the liberal leanings of her city with the aspirations of her Somali Muslim base. And like Tlaib, she was able to form a supremely diverse coalition of supporters that included everybody from white college students to the LGBTQ community, from conservative Muslims to Black Lives Matter activists. 

While their religious identities will draw them immediate press and praise and invite backlash and bigotry, their substance and what they symbolise is what sets them apart. In an era where identity is flattened, and stripped from the entire anatomy of the story, Tlaib’s and Omar’s faith will monopolise the headlines. But the faith their communities had in them, and their rooted love for community and clear progressive agendas, is what delivered them to Washington, and into the history books.  

This, in large part, is why 11/6 will forever stand as a landmark date for Muslim Americans, today and moving forward. Tlaib and Omar’s trailblazing victories help reclaim some of the hope lost with the election of Trump on 11/9, and seventeen years after 9/11, retrenches some of the darkness still looming above Detroit, Minneapolis and Muslim communities beyond and in between.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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Azerbaijan

Demonstration in support of Azerbaijani blogger on hunger strike in prison: fines and arrests

The Azeri Times

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Four demonstrators have been sentenced to three weeks in prison on charges of organising unauthorised gatherings. The demonstrators recently protested the launch of a new criminal case against well-known Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov.

Among the arrestees are two journalists and two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA).

Another four participants were fined 300 to 400 manats (approximately 177 to 236 dollars).

Huseynov has gone on a hunger strike in protest against new charges of “attacking a prison guard” that are being levied against him.

The demonstration

Several dozen journalists and activists gathered on 3 January near the Neftchiler metro station on the outskirts of Baku, shouting “Freedom for Mehman!” and “Freedom for political prisoners!”.

Five minutes later the police stopped the rally and detained 15 people.

Seven women were released at the police station, and the rest were taken to the Nizami District Court. Three other women were released there, and five men were left in custody until a court decision was made.

On 4 January the court sentenced journalist Afgan Sadigov to 22 days in prison, while journalist Nurlan Qahramanov and PFPA members Elmkhan Agayev and Sakhavat Nabiyev were sentenced to 21 days in prison.

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Hunger strike

Mehman Huseynov is an Azerbaijani video blogger who has actively criticised the wealth and corruption of certain officials.

In early 2017 he was detained by the police. After his release, Huseynov complained that the head of the police station had tortured him. He was again arrested and received two years in prison on charges of defamation.

Local journalists, opposition activists and human rights advocates have spoken out in his defence, considering him a victim of political repression.

On 26 December 2018, with just a few months of his prison term remaining, Huseynov was accused of attacking a prison officer. A new criminal case has now been filed against him. In response, the blogger has gone on hunger strike.

The Caucasian Knot writes that on 30 December his condition worsened, and at the insistence of his brother, agreed to drink water.

The head of the public relations department of the Prison Service, Mehman Sadiqov, stated that Huseynov was not on a hunger strike and that he had no health problems.

Huseynov’s father tried to meet with him in the detention facility, but was refused access. His lawyers are also unaware of his current condition.

Mehman Huseynov has received outspoken support from Reporters Without Borders.

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Azerbaijan

Imprisoned Azerbaijani political blogger on hunger strike

The Azeri Times

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A prominent Azerbaijani political blogger and activist is on a hunger strike after the authorities brought new charges against him shortly before he was to be released from a two-year prison term.

Mehman Huseynov, once Azerbaijan’s most popular political blogger, was sentenced to two years in prison in March 2017 on charges that he defamed police officers who allegedly tortured him. He had been scheduled to be released in March 2019 but on December 26, prison authorities brought new charges against him.    

Huseynov allegedly did not cooperate with an inspection in prison and attacked a guard, Lieutenant Ali Abdalov, according to a statement from the state prison service. “He physically resisted and injured Abdalov,” as well as “scattered and broke” items in an office in the prison, the statement said. The prison service also claimed that Huseynov had 461 manats (about $270) in his possession, which is against prison regulations. The new charges carry a potential prison term of up to seven years.   

The day after the new charges were brought, Huseynov, 26, stopped eating and drinking, his family reported.

This is the third time in the last year that the Azerbaijani authorities have imposed new charges on a detained political activist, thus prolonging their terms. Similar punishments were meted out to a religious activist, Telman Shiraliyev, and a senior member of the opposition Popular Front Party, Mammad Ibrahim.

“The government’s repunishments are the result of their understanding that they will never control [Huseynov] by imprisonment,” said Jamil Hasanli, an Azerbaijani historian and political activist, in a Facebook post. “The government does not want to forgive this young blogger for exposing their corruption.”

“We were expecting this kind of provocation against Mehman. He was warned that he would not be released in March,” his brother, Emin Huseynov – also a political activist, living in exile in Switzerland – told the news agency Turan. “The charges are nonsense. Who believes someone can beat prison officer while being under arrest?”

Emin Huseynov said that his brother was being punished for statements he made at his mother’s funeral in August: “Breaking me down is possible only with death. Today I have lost my mother. If they release me alive from jail, I will double my activities.”

Emin Huseynov said that Mehman started drinking water again after four days at the insistence of his family, though he continues to refuse food. His family and fellow activists say his health has dramatically deteriorated.

“Mehman Huseynov is in danger of dying and we hold the Azerbaijani authorities responsible for his fate,” press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders said in a December 31 statement.

Prison authorities have claimed that Huseynov is not in fact on a hunger strike. “Mehman Huseynov is having food and water. He keeps contact with his family by telephone. He is not conducting a hunger strike. His health is also normal, and he enjoys all the rights he is allowed under the law,” said Mehman Sadigov, a prison service spokesman.  

On January 3, a group of activists held a rally in Baku demanding the Huseynov’s release, with posters depicting Huseynov and chanting “Freedom to Mehman.” Ten of the activists were detained by police.


Lamiya Adilgiz
i is a freelance Azerbaijani journalist.

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Politics

Senator Marco Rubio Calls for Immediate Release of Mehman Huseynov

The Azeri Times

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US Senator Marco Rubio called on official Baku to immediately release blogger Mehman Huseynov.

“Azerbaijani blogger Mehman Huseynov remains imprisoned on a trumped-up charge. Now he is in a critical situation due to a hunger strike. The government of Azerbaijan should release him immediately,” the senator wrote in his blog on Twitter.

Recall that Huseynov continues his hunger strike for the 10th day in connection with a new case brought against him about alleged resistance to the warden in the prison, where he is serving a two-year term on defamation charges against the police

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