When Ilhan Omar was voted into Congress, it was a major step forward for our nation and our state. Omar is a Muslim woman of color, and her identity and position in government breaks several barriers. As a Muslim woman of color myself, Omar is an inspiring Minnesotan voice that creates representation for the Somali and Muslim community.
Despite the barriers that Omar broke before she was voted into Congress, she still faces backlash based on her identity almost daily. Islamophobic commentary has followed Omar since her first days in government, including the negative reactions to her push to end the headwear ban within the chambers of Congress.
Initially, Omar had the unapologetic backing of the Democratic party. But after Omar made anti-Israel comments, she faced major backlash which was multiplied because of her status as a Muslim woman. Omar's critics have made Islamophobic comments and have painted her as an anti-Semite.
When white male politicians make controversial comments, they are not immediately attacked for their religion. For example, when then-Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, made comments about white supremacy, his Christianity was not mentioned nor were there posters or pamphlets criticizing him for his religious beliefs. Omar’s multi-layered identity is one that causes her to receive unparalleled backlash.
I believe this issue brings up a couple problems. First, the view that anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism. Second, the idea that fighting hate with hate is a solution. Anti-Semitism is a very real issue worldwide. Despite the xenophobia that occurs toward Jewish people, comments made against the Zionist state of Israel don't equate to discrimination against Jewish people.
Omar’s comments and tweets were never referring to the religion of Judaism nor to any individual Jews. She simply expressed her issues with Israel as a state. While it is important for all politicians to watch their words, it is also important not to draw conclusions based on one loosely-worded tweet.
Her status as a Muslim does not mean her comments are inherently anti-Semitic. Omar actually seems to have more empathy towards Jews, as she has real-life experience with religious discrimination. Even if Omar’s tweets had been anti-Semitic, which they weren’t, it still does not warrant the hateful and Islamophobic attacks that have been made against her, like the poster outside of the West Virginia chambers that linked Omar to 9/11. Many people are covering up their own Islamophobia by calling Omar an anti-Semite. Omar has since responded several times, by stating she is not anti-Semitic and that she and Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib suffer from their comments being twisted due to their identities.
It is disappointing to see how Omar’s own party is also turning against her in this fight. Five democrats, including Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, have condemned Omar over a misunderstanding of her statements. This schism within the left is dangerous, and Democrats need to band together, especially now with the next election coming up shortly.
While it is normal and useful for us to be skeptical and critical of our political leaders, we need to do it in an effective way. Attacking anyone based on their religion is unjust. Omar illustrates how far the U.S. needs to go before we can preach any type of equality.