Since being elected to Congress last year, Ilhan Omar, a naturalized Somalian refugee and representative from Minnesota, has been under almost constant attack. This began when Omar was cast as “anti-Semitic” for her criticisms of Israel’s human rights abuses and settlement-building in occupied Palestine, as well as her criticism of the lobbying influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on American foreign policy. These accusations rely in part on equating the state of Israel with the global Jewish diaspora.
In addition, many of those criticizing Omar’s word choices were silent when Rep. Steve King met with a publication that has close ties to the anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi Freedom Party of Austria. We should see that characterizing Omar as anti-Semitic not only lacks nuance — it also serves the dangerous purpose of framing the problem of anti-Semitism as something brought in from outside of the United States by Muslim immigrants and refugees. Omar’s right-wing critics are directing attention away from the anti-Semitic acts and violence that are actually being committed by white nationalists, such as in the case of last year’s Tree of Life synagogue shooting.
Since then, Omar has continued to be targeted by the far right. In February, a white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant was arrested for planning the assassination of Ilhan Omar, among other left-of-center politicians and journalists. Earlier this month, a hardcore Trump supporter was arrested for threatening in a phone call to Omar’s office to “put a bullet in her f*cking skull.”
The recent attempts by Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post and President Donald Trump to attack Ilhan Omar by trying to associate her with the 9/11 attacks, effectively on no other basis than her religion, are obviously absurd and insincere. This is comparable to accusing someone of complicity in the 2011 Norway attacks, or the Christchurch mosque shootings, on the basis of their Christianity and nothing else. The intention of this rhetoric and imagery is clearly to stir up the Islamophobic sentiments that motivated the aforementioned threats and attempted violence against Representative Omar.
When we look at the whole picture, it seems apparent that Ilhan Omar is being attacked because she has been a consistent opponent of American imperialism. She has criticized the involvement of the United States in the ongoing Saudi military campaign against Yemen that has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, as well as the endless U.S. meddling and intervention in Latin America for over a century. She is being attacked because as a Somali-born Muslim immigrant speaking up against injustices carried out by the United States government, she becomes a target for the xenophobic rhetoric that continues to feed the growth of white nationalism. She is being attacked because she advocates an economic alternative to the existing, exploitative system of capitalism that renders workers increasingly powerless, impoverished and desperate.