When the newly elected Rep. Ilhan Omar kicked off her acceptance speech with “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” I felt a space of belonging. There was a feeling that American Muslims had arrived—but what arrived with them, and which version of Islam was going to be represented through her and fellow Muslim freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib?
As-Salaam-Alaikum means “peace be with you,” but how Omar has carried herself in the weeks that followed has been anything put peaceful. Here’s a quick rundown of her recent actions.
Omar accused American Jews of holding dual loyalty toward Israel. However, there was no word of her loyalty to Islamist supremacism and its gold star prize of advancing the Palestinian cause by decimating the Jewish state’s right to exist.
Omar dehumanized President Trump by saying he’s not really human. Now, Omar has survived a war zone. It takes a distorted mind to have received dehumanization at such scale, then dehumanize another.
Omar had trouble distinguishing between her opinion and a fact when discussing Sen. Lindsey Graham, whom she accused of being compromised with no evidence to support the smear.
Her high frequency of tweets and statements peddling anti-Semitic tropes led to congressional resolutions against anti-Semitism, which Omar made about Islamophobia. With the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ influence, the House resolution mutated from a specific issue to a catch-all that includes Islamophobia — a term that has no tangible meaning and has extended from initially meaning “fear of Islam” to being any perceived criticism toward Islam or Muslims (even if it comes from other Muslims).
The Lack of Accountability Continues to Grow
Omar frequently backpeddles on her statements, saying she’s been misunderstood. There is a term for this: gaslighting. As fellow Muslim reformer Dr. Zuhdi Jasser pointed out, Omar relies on the excuse of naivety granted her by the Democratic Party.
The gross level of permission given Omar to continue to be hateful and unrepentant is its own form of prejudice that sounds a lot like an inner Democratic monologue that might go like this: ‘The poor little oppressed brown Muslim girl is overwhelmed. We need to help her.”
Yes, we need to help her. We help her by giving her the dignity and respect of being treated as an adult, a peer, and a colleague. If we’re going to be generous, we help Omar by recognizing we’re looking at someone deeply affected by war and powerlessness, and unsteady in wielding power. We help her by holding her accountable.
The reluctance to hold her accountable stems in part from this idea that these are clumsy missteps. Yet none of this is new for Omar, who served in Minnesota’s House of Representatives in 2017, a role she stepped into after being politically active in her community. This is her second public office, and she enters her term with a trail of interviews that show a consistency in provocative and extreme views.
Past interviews offer telltale signs of revulsion toward America and a disturbingly odd defense for terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Omar has also asked for leniency toward ISIS terrorists (even though Minnesota’s Somali community has a radicalization problem), but has been hesitant to commit to defending young Somali girls against female genital mutilation (the Somali community also scores high for ritualistic cutting).
Complicated Effects on American Muslims
For the public at large, Omar isn’t destroying any stereotypes in public office. In fact, so far she reinforces the stereotype that someone like her would believe what someone like her actually appears to believe, and that makes it almost insurmountably more difficult for other American Muslims. Because of her behavior, we will be hated more and trusted less.
Her effects on the American Muslim community are complicated to tease out. Pushing aside her unwavering Islamist allies (and most ardent public supporters), we find a mixed bag of American Muslims who find themselves struggling with her representation as a Muslim.
As one American Muslim pointed out to me in private conversation, “She has the right enemies.” Those enemies include Saudi Arabia, which despite its current favor with the Trump administration, is collectively hated by American Muslims for their unwillingness to sever the head of Wahhabi ideology and terror funding. It’s also hated for its gross human rights abuses and failure to leverage its wealth and power to offer humanitarian assistance to displaced Muslims. Yet Omar is pictured sitting in private meetings with Turkish President (and Islamist dictator) Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Her position on LGBTQIA issues is also divisive. Deeply disapproving of her anti-Semitism, liberal Muslims will align with Omar on her support for gay and trans issues, while traditional or conservative Muslims will further distance themselves. Meanwhile, Muslim reformers and traditionalists all but align on Omar, except on her criticisms of Jews, the state of Israel, or however else she might package those views. On that, traditionalists and fundamentalist Muslims are divided even amongst themselves.
All this is to underscore that it is not possible to peg Omar as representative of a collective Muslim identity. However, she checks off the boxes for Islamist representation, and that comes down to three key factors:
- Vitriolic hate for Israel, while blurring or tolerating gross anti-Semitism alongside sloppy scrutiny of Israeli policies.
- Absolute disinterest in good faith engagement and dialogue with non-Islamist personalities, particularly Muslim reformers.
- Using Western political channels to advance the agenda of Islamic supremacism, where Islam is narrowly defined by a small segment of a Muslim demographic. This demographic drives the public narrative through a visible Muslim identity, which must currently be seen as oppressed or victimized to gain additional public favor and tolerance that then reinforces the underlying supremacism.
Islam weaponized as a political tool, including weaponizing language such as “Islamophobia,” only advances Islamists. Islamism is not a representation of Islam. It is, however, a representation of an expansionist ideology among Muslim supremacists.
That 9/11 Poster Is the Problem in One Picture
The clumsy poster displayed at the West Virginia statehouse of Omar paired with the falling Twin Towers kicked up a fresh hysteria. The poster generated all sorts of jumping to conclusions, including fanning the fear that (1) Omar is a terrorist or a Trojan Horse, (2) Omar is responsible for the 9/11 attacks, (3) Omar is in some way linked to the 9/11 hijackers, and so forth.
— (((Mike Pushkin))) (@pushkinforhouse) March 1, 2019
It is as absurd to jump to any of these conclusions as it was to have created that poster. However, that poster exists, so let’s talk about it. Let’s start by putting the poster into words: the ideology of “tick tick boom” went from crashing into the Twin Towers to walking the halls of Congress.
A destructive ideology is hijacking Islam, and it see-saws from violent extremism to Islamism. Both the ideology of terror and the ideology of Islamism are destructive.
We’ve spent nearly 20 targeted years fighting terror at home and abroad. After all that, the West is seeing an increased tolerance toward radicalization, including from American politicians who in some cases can’t identity basic terror groups and in other cases lump terrorists of one ideology with non-violent Islamists of another ideology, as we see in the poster.
Among the far-left, terror ideology is no longer outrageous—it’s bundled under a banner of inclusivity. Among the far right, all Muslims are practicing taqiyya (the stealth art of lying). Almost 20 years after 9/11, most American political influencers and thinkers on the hill still struggle with discriminating between the faith and the ideology, between everyday Muslims and Islamists. Most still don’t know what a Muslim reformer is.
So yes, of course someone was going to create that poster because that is where we are in the conversation. We’ve bombed and killed a lot of people overseas, while allowing dangerous Muslim supremacists to rise as political and culture leaders at home.
Meanwhile, for the rest of us, having a public conversation on this level is only possible once an individual has swashbuckled her way through the Islamophobia accusations, because everything is Islamophobia — even if you’re a Muslim. Especially if you’re an anti-Islamist Muslim.
In sum, criticism of Omar’s actions is not an attack on her faith, nor is it an attack on the Somali community, or her skin color. It’s an attack on Omar’s actions, while raising the question of if and how America failed in integrating Omar and the community that influenced her.
As we pan through her tweets, interviews, and legislative work, we’re looking for American values that transcend race, color, and creed. Those American values aren’t defined by whether she practices Islam, chooses to wear a hijab, and so forth — those factors are absolutely irrelevant here. We’re looking to see if she can isolate the values that gave rise to a nation she and her family sought refuge in from war-torn Somalia.
If you have difficulty identifying what distances America from foreign terror groups for example, or deflect criticism with accusations of racism or bigotry versus engaging in a sophisticated debate of ideas, then once at the helm of power, you run to risk of not being able to keep America from becoming another country to escape from.
Omar is part of a growing legislative arm of the Islamist body, a body that was already well-formed with lobbies, cultural icons, and academics. Yet, as a Muslim reformer, my concern is less with Omar and more so with the debilitating chaos, controversy, and polarizing communication breakdown she brings. That is what Islamists do. They create chaos because they thrive in chaos.