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Trump impeachment 2.0: Here's what US Arabs and Muslims are saying about it

US House of Representatives votes 232 to 197 to impeach Trump over his role in inciting riot at US Capitol after the president rejected his election defeat
Democrats and some Republicans blame Trump for violence in Washington last week (MEE/Ali Harb)

When Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib famously called for impeaching US President Donald Trump in an expletive-laden quip shortly after being sworn into Congress, no one expected that it would happen twice.

Still, on Wednesday, 13 months after Trump was impeached the first time, the US House of Representatives - Tlaib included - voted to impeach him for the second time over his role in inciting last week's riots at the Capitol, in which five people died, including a police officer.

The impeachment was decided in a 232 to 197 vote largely along party lines with 10 Republicans voting in favour. But much like the first time, the vote is not expected to lead to Trump's premature removal from office because of the Republican-led Senate. 

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ruled out calling for an emergency session for a removal trial before 19 January, a day before President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration.

Democrats, who are set to gain control of the Senate later this month when Georgia's Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff are sworn in, can proceed with a Senate trial after Trump leaves office. Being convicted by the Senate would bar Trump from running for president again.

From the House floor on Wednesday, Tlaib delivered an uncompromising message  that Trump must be removed from office. 

"Those who incited an attack on the people's House do not get to talk about healing and unity. They have torn this country apart. They have stoked the fire and then handed the gasoline to Donald Trump," she said.

MEE spoke to prominent Arab- and Muslim-Americans and gathered their thoughts on last week's events and the push to unseat Trump. Here's what they said: 

Maya Berry, civic engagement advocate: 'There have to be consequences'

Maya Berry, executive director of the Arab American Institute (AAI), said the riots at the Capitol were a shocking but not surprising result of the failure to hold Trump accountable for his past abuses.

"I am both absolutely scared and doubling down on our democracy work every single day," Berry said of AAI's efforts to increase political participation at the local and national level.

'We knew this was coming. We can't be surprised. We can be shocked'

- Maya Berry

Berry said that what was suspected during Trump's first presidential campaign has become clear: His supporters are driven by racial resentment and the demographic shifts that will see white people no longer a majority of the population in the future.

"I think that has been a foundational issue for what has motivated some of this hatred and animus and - now we see - open violence."

Berry stressed that even with days left in Trump's term, the impeachment proceedings as well as scrutinising Congress members who "promoted this violence" are important.  

"There have to be consequences. The reason we got to 6 January is that this stuff has been building without consequence. He was impeached and not removed from office. Adam Schiff stood at that trial and told us: 'He will do this again'. He did it again. We knew this was coming. We can't be surprised. We can be shocked."

Sami Scheetz, former Biden campaign official: Presidents are 'not above the law'

Sami Scheetz, former Iowa deputy coalitions director for the Biden campaign, said last week's "right-wing terrorist insurrection" at the US Capitol was "the lowest point that we have seen [in] American democracy in over 150 years".

Scheetz, who is Syrian American and had previously worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign during the primaries, added that the riots, which aimed to prevent the congressional certification of Biden's presidential election victory, brought America's democratic institutions to a "breaking point".

Despite the bleak state of affairs in Washington, Scheetz said he is "cautiously optimistic" that Republicans are starting to realise "what their venomous, anti-democratic rhetoric has done" to weaken the US, adding that with control over both chambers of Congress, the Democrats and Biden have a mandate to lead a new chapter in American history.

"Impeaching the president for his treacherous behaviour is the only way that we will ensure that our presidents are not above the law and that they are responsible for their actions. Our members of Congress swear an oath to the republic and our Constitution - not the president or the leaders of their respective parties."

Ibraham Qatabi, community organiser: Damaging 'the democratic system'

Ibraham Qatabi, a Yemeni American political analyst and a human rights advocate and organiser, said Trump and the Republican Party are to blame for last week's riot, which Qatabi said was a result of Trump's dangerous rhetoric and actions over the last four years.

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Qatabi has worked in a myriad of positions including coordinating counsel to detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison, to serving as an adviser to Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni Nobel laureate.

"What the Republicans are doing right now, they are completely doing damage to the whole entire democratic system. They already let Trump lead up to this moment," he told MEE.

"And now to let him off the hook is completely creating the greatest damage to American democracy.

"Not only that but also they are sending a signal to the entire world. If you have a powerful man, with guns and supporters, you could basically run over any democracy."

He added that justice and accountability were needed in the aftermath of the Capitol building riot, saying there should not be "two tracks of the justice system, one for the minorities and one for the white privilege".

Maysoon Zayid, comedian and writer: 'You cannot let go of an insurrection'

Palestinian-American comedian and writer Maysoon Zayid accused Trump of orchestrating a violent riot that got people killed - not the kind of crime that can be overlooked.

"If the violence that was brought on the Capitol is not condemned, if he doesn't run again, someone other than him will run again, and they will incite this type of insurrection from day one, not wait until the last week... You cannot let go of an insurrection," Zayid told MEE.

She added that the violence could have been worse if the rioters had come across a prominent Democratic lawmaker in the building.

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Zayid said while Islamophobia and racism pre-date Trump, his presidency had been "abusive" to people of colour across the country.

"I'm a Palestinian-Muslim girl who grew up in Jersey post 9/11, so I've been dealing with white supremacists my entire life. It was just really disenchanting to see the entire GOP stand behind the new grand wizard of the Klan, Donald Trump."

The Palestinian-American comedian called for moving on from Trump after ensuring accountability for his policies and incitement.

"There's so much to do. We have a chance of fixing health care. We need to deal with the Covid vaccine rollout because I've been stuck in my house since March. I'd like to go out. We need to fix everything that Trump broke. It is a lot of work. And the only way we can do that is if he's relegated to the dustbin of history. And like Voldemort, we stop saying his name," she said, referring to the Harry Potter villain.

Vetnah Monessar, civic advocate: Impeachment 'not the whole story'

Vetnah Monessar, executive director of the MASA foundation, a non-profit focused on political advocacy for Muslim and Arab communities, said that while the impeachment will force Republicans to take a final and official stance on Trump's presidency, it does not tell the whole story.

"The real story is that 75 million Americans either live in an imaginary universe or simply do not care about anyone besides themselves," she said.

"Trump wins the gold star for being the first president to be impeached twice, but it is not enough.

"We need to implement more serious consequences for public figures who spread lies, especially when those lies nearly put lives of congressional leaders at risk. We cannot afford to tolerate the cult of Trump any longer without risking destruction."

George Bisharat, law professor: 'Better late than never'

George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American professor at UC Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, said that Trump should have been impeached multiple times for a litany of crimes during his four years in office, but it is "better late than never".

Bisharat said the impeachment process could create real accountability and implications for Trump, including "barring him from holding any future federal office", and that the trial against him should continue after Biden is inaugurated - even if it means cutting into his administration's ability to implement policies and programmes.

"If there's no accountability under these circumstances, then we essentially are saying that the president is above and beyond the law and can't face any consequences for anything," he said.

"And so, I think we have to draw a line and establish accountability for the president for the sake of, you know, the future of our presidency."

Abdullah Hammoud, Michigan legislator: Trump and his allies are responsible for violence

Abdullah Hammoud, a Michigan state representative, said impeachment is needed to ensure that the law applies to everyone.

"There is an individual who believes themselves to be above the law. I think it's important to send a unified message across the board that nobody's above the law, not even the president of the United States," Hammoud said.

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The riots at the Capitol appeared to be aimed at stopping the certification of Biden's election victory. Hammoud blamed Trump for the violence along with legislators who promoted conspiracy theories about election fraud and questioning the integrity of the vote. 

"The elected officials that are signing on to letters casting doubt on the election proceedings, they are all responsible," Hammoud told MEE. "I hold them all responsible for the five lives that were lost."

Lansing, the capital of Michigan where Hammoud serves, witnessed similar - albeit less violent - events earlier this year when armed right-wing demonstrators protested inside the state Capitol against coronavirus lockdown efforts.

"What happened in Michigan months ago was the blueprint for what happened in DC just last week," Hammoud said. The US president appeared to back the armed protests in Michigan at the time when he tweeted: "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!"

The Michigan legislator called on Democrats to pursue a bold agenda of structural reforms to prevent the rise of future Trumps, including pushing to abolish the electoral college and moving to a popular vote-based system.

"Moving forward, we have to take a look at what brought us here in the first place... We have unprecedented issues and unprecedented crises, and it's going to take unprecedented solutions and leadership now more than ever."

Rashid Khalidi, professor of Arab studies: 'an inherently unstable, unsustainable situation'

Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University and the editor of the Journal of Palestine Studies, said his initial reaction to the violence that took place at the US Capitol building was "shock". 

But the chaos was "the logical conclusion of what this administration and this president have been leading up to," Khalidi added.

'The fundamental opposition to democratic rule to majority rule, which is what this was about, is still there'

- Rashid Khalidi

Last Wednesday's events also showed a clear split between the Republican establishment and Trump's base.

"Of the party, most of the voters, I think, follow Trump. Most of the money and the establishment, it differs from him whether they dare to say it or not," Khalidi told MEE.

"That's the issue. They're so afraid of [Trump's] supporters, I think they're physically afraid of their supporters, in some cases."

The professor said even if Trump is convicted by the Senate after his impeachment, the push is not enough to quell the rage and hostility towards American democracy that has been cultivated over the past four years. "It's an inherently unstable, unsustainable situation."

"I think his brand is permanently damaged. I think his political weight within the Republican party has been diminished. I think that he is not a viable leader of the party, but he will continue to command support of a huge part of the base," Khalidi said of the now twice-impeached president.

"The fundamental opposition to democratic rule to majority rule, which is what this was about, is still there, irrespective of the presence or absence of Donald J. Trump."

Adam Abusalah, political activist: Trump 'must be removed'

Adam Abusalah, a political activist from Dearborn, Michigan, said impeachment would serve as a deterrent against lawlessness from future presidents and act as a reminder that no one can get away with undermining democracy.

"Every day that Trump is in office is a threat and a danger to our democracy and Republic," Abusalah said. "Even one day is too long. His actions caused people to lose their loved ones. He has divided our nation, so he must be removed, and he must be held accountable for his actions."

Abusalah said the 6 January "coup" was an act of domestic terrorism that will go down as "one of the darkest days in modern day American history".

"The mob that this president unleashed was fuelled by hate, by the lies and actions of our president. It was an assault on our democracy and the people's House. These actions and attacks proved the danger that lies and hatred against our democracy."

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