No, Democrats Are Not Falling Into the Ilhan Omar Trap

No, Democrats Are Not Falling Into the Ilhan Omar Trap

Our Response to David Frum

For the most part, The Atlantic is not a bad site for news and information. However, like a lot of large platforms with access to writers who also provide commentary on the corporate news, they’re not perfect. Powerfully effective pieces like Ta-Nehesi Coates’ The Case for Reparations have been written on the site in the past. However, the new article written by David Frum who is a staff writer for The Atlantic has forced a response from us.

The article plays into the false notion that Representative Ilhan Omar has done something wrong. It even equates Rep. Omar’s statements at CAIR with Trump’s statements after the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand. This is reckless and shameful. People are entitled to their opinions, and Black and Intellectual has its own. So let’s break it down.

Many of President Donald Trump’s tweets backfire, but not his tweet attack on U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar. That one tweet succeeded to perfection. Trump wishes to make Omar the face of the Democratic Party heading into the 2020 elections—and now he has provoked Democrats to comply.

Frum starts off terribly here. He’s unclear about what he considers a tweet backfiring or not, but to reference Trump’s 9/11 tweet as “succeeding to perfection” is problematic. Over 10.2 million people have watched the poorly-cut video of Trump using Rep. Omar’s statements at CAIR against her to imply that somehow she (or Muslims in general) are all responsible for that tragedy. The tweet has a lot of likes and retweets, but nearly all of Trump’s tweets are widely shared – he’s the President and has lots of supporters. The virality of that particular tweet has a lot to do with the reaction it garnered from the Left. However, again, that’s not the first time that’s happened. Trump consistently makes tweets that send progressives and liberals up a wall.

It’s unknown whether or not Trump truly wants to make Rep. Omar “the face of the Democratic Party.” Attempting to decipher Trump-speak is a Herculean task. Trump changes his mind as the winds shift, truth be told. On any given day you don’t know if it’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, or anyone else the far-right wants to turn into a boogeyman to be the face of the party. Really, it’s not up to the Republicans to choose who the face of the party will be. It’s up to the voters who will cast their ballots throughout the 2020 Democratic primaries. 

So the Democratic defense of Rep. Omar, though late and honestly forced by social media, is not complying with anything.

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have offered full-throated endorsements of Omar. “Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end,” Sanders tweeted. Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, and Pete Buttigieg have expressed themselves more circumspectly, but have still aligned themselves with her in ways not easy to undo. “We are stronger than this president’s hatred and Islamophobia. Do not let him drive us apart or make us afraid,” O’Rourke tweeted. Of the 2020 hopefuls, only Amy Klobuchar added any caveat to her statement about Omar. (“You can disagree with her words—as I have done before—but this video is wrong.”) Joe Biden and Cory Booker have thus far refrained from comment.

Good. All of these Presidential hopefuls want to be leaders. They should defend their Democratic ally in Congress. I see nothing wrong here. If anything, the candidates should’ve gone even further.

Having promised not to “let him drive us apart” from Omar, Democrats are now stuck with responsibility for the reckless things the representative from Minnesota says, not only about Jews, but about other issues, too. Omar has already served notice that she does not intend to behave more circumspectly in the future. In a Friday-night interview, Stephen Colbert asked Omar whether she would heed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s advice to back-bench it for a while. Omar answered, “I think Nancy knows this very well. Women have been told to go slow and not be seen and not be heard for many years. She wouldn’t have made it to where she is if she did. And it’s certainly the case for minority women … We are not there to be quiet. We are not there to be invisible. We are there to follow the lead of people like Congressman John Lewis and make good trouble.”
 The Democrats are on notice. More remarks will be coming.

Let them come! Ilhan Omar should not be forced to engage in self-censorship out of fear of what the fascists on the Right will say about her. Here’s the thing, they’re going to attack her regardless of what she says. Rep. Omar could come out tomorrow and say “the sky is blue” and Fox News will turn that into an anti-Semitic trope. The solution isn’t to cower, it’s to fight. Rep. Omar is a Somali Muslim immigrant and she’s a woman – that’s all the right-wing needs to attack her. She checks all of the boxes they love to hate.

Listening to Nancy Pelosi and taking a seat on the “back-bench” is like telling her to go to time out. Rep. Omar is a grown woman, she doesn’t need Congressional approval to speak her mind. I thought we cared about free speech?! Apparently that applies most when you’re a white supremacist. Don’t be an African immigrant coming into Congress thinking you’re going to speak your truth. That’s the message being sent here by some Democrats and the entirety of the Republican Party.

So let the comments continue. The attacks aren’t going away. So Rep. Omar being silent is not a solution. Again, what has she said that is reckless? What she’s said has been taken out of context. The “all about the Benjamin’s” tweet was grossly taken out of context. Her 9/11 statements are also out of context. What are folks mad at? That she didn’t say “radical Islamic terrorist extremists maoists socialists communists?” Of course, that’s a joke, however, we do live in a country that refuses to say other things. We live in a country that refuses to call domestic terrorism committed by white conservative extremists – terrorism. 

So spare me the tears if you’re upset about Rep. Omar not saying “Islamic terrorists” if you don’t also call domestic terrorism committed by white Trump supporters – domestic terrorism.

Against Omar’s propensity to provoke, the Democratic Party seems institutionally almost defenseless. Pelosi was thwarted when she attempted to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitic expressions by House members. Instead, the House substituted more muddled language in which Jews appeared in a laundry list condemning all expressions of intolerance against “African-Americans, Native Americans, and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, immigrants and others.”

This was a terrible look for the Democratic Party. Remember Rep. Steve King and their refusal to censure him? They refused to on the grounds of freedom of speech (more like cowardice). As was written above, that didn’t seem to apply to Rep. Ilhan Omar. The backlash to this decision from the Democratic base was loud and forced party leaders to distance themselves from their own actions.

Omar’s co-headliner at the California fundraising event was a lawyer named Hassan Shibly. Shibly is the lawyer for Hoda Muthana, a New Jersey–born woman who married an Islamic State fighter, proclaimed her adherence to ISIS in writing, and now seeks to return to the United States. Muthana’s case turns on technicalities of the citizenship laws, and she is entitled to legal representation. Shibly has stressed his own condemnation of ISIS and Muthana’s choice to join it. Yet Shibly has also spoken in extreme ways against Jews in Israel and the United States. He tweeted back in August 2014: “God as my wittiness, Israel & it’s supporters are enemies of God and humanity! How many more children must Israel kill 4 U 2 C?#Gaza.”

Not entirely sure what this has to do with Rep. Omar. Just seems like another attempt to smear her as anti-Semitic by using the actions of others.

Some have urged that Omar’s “some people did something” words about 9/11 be understood in context. Let’s try that. After the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand, Trump tweeted: “My warmest sympathy and best wishes goes out to the people of New Zealand after the horrible massacre in the Mosques. 49 innocent people have so senselessly died, with so many more seriously injured. The U.S. stands by New Zealand for anything we can do. God bless all!” By using died rather than were murdered—and by describing the crime as “senseless”—Trump abstracted a politically motivated act from the politics that motivated it. The crime became a ghastly tragedy, requiring no words from him about the white-nationalist beliefs of the killer or the larger international movement that shared those beliefs.

“Some people did something” performed exactly the same exonerating service for Islamic extremism as Trump’s tweet about Christchurch did for white nationalism. Like Christchurch in Trump’s telling, in Omar’s telling, 9/11 just … happened. Look no further. Do not ask about the ideas that impelled the crime. Do not criticize those ideas. Do not hold to account those who traffic in dehumanizing language like that used by Omar’s co-headliner in California.

 
 

Donald Trump’s statement after the Christchurch massacre has to be viewed in the context of the fact that he himself inspires acts of terrorism (executed attacks and foiled plans that never materialized). Trump, I’m sure, is aware of this. Trump has a history of placating to white supremacists.

Rep. Omar has no such history and to date, no one has carried out an act of terrorism because they were inspired by what’s she’s said. Most importantly, no one has attacked anyone of another faith because of what she’s said. So the comparison between her and Trump here is a serious reach. This is argued in bad faith here by David Frum.

Until we address the issue of racism within government and media and the disdain the establishment has for progressives – we’re not really addressing what’s going on. This rebuttal could be stretched out further, but I believe the point has been made.

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