‘A time for healing’ — Arab Americans react to Biden victory

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Lights form a heart on a building in the Loop as hundreds gather to celebrate President-elect Joe Biden's victory on Nov. 7, 2020 in Chicago.(Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
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People cheer as cars pass by North Michigan Avenue and East Wacker Drive in the Loop to celebrate President-elect Joe Biden's victory, on Nov. 7, 2020 in Chicago.(Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
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Lights form a heart on a building in the Loop as hundreds gather to celebrate President-elect Joe Biden's victory on Nov. 7, 2020 in Chicago.(Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)
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Updated 08 November 2020

‘A time for healing’ — Arab Americans react to Biden victory

  • Democrat challenger’s win, yet to be officially certified, raises questions over future Mideast policy
  • Domestic groups look forward to 'new direction' on range of social and economic issues

CHICAGO: The Pennsylvania poll count that gave Joe Biden the electoral votes needed to claim victory over President Donald Trump may be unofficial, but that didn’t stop Arab Americans and Arab leaders from reacting with joy and sorrow, apprehension and hope.

Biden’s triumph early on Sunday still requires official certification, and he will have to withstand legal challenges from Trump, who alleges voter fraud in the acceptance of mail-in ballots long after the Nov. 3 election date and has vowed to seek a recount in several battleground states.

Supporters of both Biden and Trump in the US and around the world reacted predictably, suggesting the divisions that separated Americans during Trump’s four years in office may continue through Biden’s term as the country’s 46th president.

“As an American I’m relieved that Joe Biden won the election and it’s time for our country to heal, hopefully end the finger pointing, and find common ground to work together,” said Michigan political consultant and Arab American activist Dennis Denno.

“As far as the Middle East and Arab world, I hope to see a return to the Iran nuclear deal framework, because no one wants to see Iran armed with nuclear weapons and the US policy of not talking to our enemies is detrimental to our own foreign policy. I’m not optimistic that a new president will significantly change our policies toward Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians and America's cozy relationship with Arab dictators.”

If Biden’s victory is confirmed, his running mate Kamala Harris will become the country’s first female, black and Indian-American vice president. Harris’ father is from Jamaica and her mother from India.

Samir Khalil, president of the Arab American Democratic Club in Chicago, said that the animosity between Trump and Biden supporters is likely to continue.

“The delay in the election result may have been to water down the reactions of Trump’s supporters,” Khalil claimed on Sunday.

“For the Middle East not much will change. Marginalized Arab countries will still need Israel's blessing to gain US access and support.”

The 20 electoral votes of Pennsylvania, Biden’s home state, gave him 273 electoral college votes and victory. Decisions are outstanding in at least five other battleground states, but their tallies are widely expected to increase Biden’s lead.

Nihad Awad, national president of the Council on American Islamic Relations, one of the largest Muslim-American activist organizations, said that the nation’s Muslims expect Biden to follow through on his promises to Muslims and Arabs.

“President-elect Biden has pledged to end the Muslim ban on his first day in office, include Muslims at every level of his administration, and address issues of racial and religious discrimination.

“We plan to join other American Muslim leaders and organizations in ensuring that the Biden administration fulfils these promises. We also plan to continue holding our government accountable when it errs.”

Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who has championed civil rights and Palestinian rights in the Middle East, wrote: “I want to congratulate President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris — I look forward to working with you to move America forward in a new direction starting January 2021.”

Congresswoman-elect Marie Newman, whose 3rd Illinois district represents the eighth-largest Arab American voting population and largest Palestinian American voting population in the US, wrote: “Huge congratulations to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and to everyone across the country who worked toward this victory. So grateful to have a president who will work to tackle the great challenges ahead of us with clarity and compassion.”

Newman in March unseated seven-term congressman Dan Lipinski, who was criticized for marginalizing Arab American interests in the district, and went on to defeat Republican Mike Fricilone.

American-Palestinian supermodel Gigi Hadid wrote: “Joy. Relief. Pride. A new day. A new chapter. More voices have been heard than ever before. A president that will work to serve all Americans, whether you voted for him or not, toward a united America. And this country’s first female vice president.”

Under US law, the next president will be sworn into office on Jan. 20, 2021 in Washington D.C.

Palestinian-American Ammar Campa-Najjar, who is trailing in a tight congressional battle in California’s 50th District behind Arab American Darrell Issa, said: "After four painful years for many of us,  the Trump presidency is over. It’s time to heal our divided country.”

Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of MedGlobal, which provides medical relief around the world, said: “This is a happy day for the US and the world. As a Muslim, Arab and Syrian American, I pray that Joe Biden/Kamala Harris will be the unifier and healer we expect him to be and to move our country away from hate, racism, conspiracy theories and white supremacy to a shining city on the hill.”


Kabul to rebuild birthplace of famous poet Rumi

Updated 56 min 25 sec ago

Kabul to rebuild birthplace of famous poet Rumi

KABUL: Afghan authorities are planning to rebuild a 13th-century Islamic teaching complex in Balkh province that once was home to one of the world’s most famous mystics and poets, Jalaluddin Rumi.

Rumi was born in the Balkh complex in 1207. The learning site, which comprised a mosque, monastery and madrasa for hundreds of disciples, belonged to his father, the theologian Bahauddin Walad, known by Afghans as Sultan Al-Ulema.

A few years after Rumi’s family left Balkh around 1210, the prosperous town northwest of the provincial capital, Mazar-e Sharif, was destroyed by Genghis Khan’s Mongols storming in from the northeast. 

Work to rebuild Balkh took more than a century and the learning site remained in ruins. Centuries later, when billions of dollars of foreign aid began to reach Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the Kabul government came under fire for failing to restore Walad’s center.

However, restoration work is now due to begin in spring with the onset of warmer weather.

“It will be rebuilt in a classic and traditional manner,” Shivaye Sharq, Afghan deputy information minister, told Arab News last week.

“With the revival of the monastery, we hope to introduce people to a lost treasure,” he said. “In addition to the monastery, there will be a museum, a studio for sama dance, a cultural salon, garden and library.”

The whirling dance of sama is associated with Rumi, whose followers practice it as a form of prayer and devotion. 

Since Rumi lived most of his life in Anatolia, Turkey, and was buried in Konya, where his shrine became a place of pilgrimage, the Turkish government years ago pledged to help rebuild his father’s center, but the promise has not been fulfilled.

Matiullah Karimi, head of the information and culture center in Balkh province, said the $7 million cost of the restoration project will be covered by the Afghan government.

“A portion of a massive mud-built dome and four smaller ones are the only things left from the monastery,” Karimi told Arab News.

“Restoring this monastery is important for safeguarding our cultural heritage and learning, and it will be good for the tourism industry as well,” he said.

For Afghan scholars, the restoration of the learning center will also help society at large.

“The advancement of a nation is not gauged by the rising buildings, long roads and wealth that do not promote knowledge and science, but by libraries, knowledge and centers like Walad’s, which was a source of hope for many,” Hashmatullah Bawar, a social sciences lecturer at Kabul’s Dunya University, told Arab News.

The appeal of Rumi, who in the 21st century is still considered one of the world’s greatest and also bestselling poets, reinforces the enthusiasm over the reconstruction of his father’s center. 

“Rumi inherited his mystical thinking from his great father,” Saleh Mohammed Khaliq, head of Balkh Writers’ Union, told Arab News.

“Humanist and mystical thought is badly needed in our current world, which has become a victim of violence and wars.”