I’ve had trouble organizing my thoughts on the recent controversy surrounding Representative Ilhan Omar. I naturally gravitated toward a more calculated approach. Neutral precision has long been my default and the media atmosphere as a whole. It‘s acknowledging the value of both sides. It’s listening to every single person with an opinion, no matter how disingenuous.
What’s obvious is that Representative Ilhan Omar brings a unique perspective that’s rarely, if ever, been echoed so close to seats of power in America. She has forced a discussion on an important topic that has needed focus for generations, U.S. support for the government of Israel.
She also has an impressive story, the quintessential American Dream you might say. She survived a civil war in Somalia, a squalid refugee camp in Kenya, and bullying in America to become the first Somali-American, Muslim woman to become a federal legislator. She has the qualifications that should deem her as an “acceptable” immigrant by the right. Her story should be one that they lift up and promote, the story of a refugee based on her own merits coming to America legally and working hard to get to where she is today, dedicating her life to public service to a country she has adopted as home.
I thought that if I tackled her story, showed everyone how much work she put in to get where she is, and implored people to celebrate her accomplishments instead of quibble over words, I could create a winning, logical argument. I could outline how Muslims of all types have been maligned and how Ilhan Omar should choose her words more carefully but her meaning and intent is good. I could go into detail how problematic the Israeli government is, how its Prime Minister is neck deep in a corruption scandal, how AIPAC (a lobbying organization) is for some reason the only lobbyist group people take at their word, how there are dozen of State laws that currently trample on citizen’s free speech by criminalizing their right to participate in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement, and how as the country with far more resources, military capabilities, and global support it is Israel’s responsibility to break the vicious cycle occurring in Gaza, not the Palestinians.
I could have written a lot of things here, all true, but I quickly realized in writing the many incarnations of this story that it would never be enough to quiet her critics. Her detractors don’t actually care about her words. They care about her challenge to the established way of doing things, and her identity, from which her novel and no less important perspective is informed.
This is easily evidenced in the calls to remove her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She gained separate notoriety recently in her intense grilling of Trump’s latest special envoy to Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, a man convicted of lying to Congress during the Reagan administration and who was instrumental in the U.S. support for death squads in Central and South America. The video went viral, but not without a significant amount of people coming to Abram’s defense.
Rep. Ilhan Omar recently appeared on an episode of the podcast, Deconstructed, hosted by Mehdi Hasan, journalist for The Intercept. Mehdi asked her about that incident wondering why it had taken so long for someone like him to be held to account for his actions. Her response is telling:
“I’m someone who represents many identities who have been constantly debated in that committee. And for the first time, I actually get to sit on that committee.
For many years, I’ve spent time screaming at the TV asking questions, wishing people on that committee would hold people accountable for the actions that they have been part of that has caused so much harm around the world. And when I had my opportunity I wasn’t gonna let it go to waste.”
-Rep. Ilhan Omar-
I remember listening to that episode and getting a bit emotional. Her presence on that committee represents progress and a significant change to the status quo, if only because one member now has been on the receiving end of the policy engendered within the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
This is good and this scares the establishment, even on the Democratic-side. It’s easy to realize now that this has never been about her words and has only been about who she is and what she represents. She scares a significant portion of America, and I say more power to her. I hope she stays strong and doesn’t let this faze her. She has far more important work to do.
For the latest example of bad-faith, Islamaphobic smears against her, see below: