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Ilhan Omar says Trump has ‘unearthed ills’ in American society

US Congresswoman under attack from right-wing media and Republicans say she will not back down despite the efforts to silence her
By Azad Essa in Minneapolis, United States

US Donald Trump has unearthed long-standing racism and bigotry that some people have otherwise tried to whitewash out of US history, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has said.

Speaking to Middle East Eye, Omar said Trump has “unearthed a lot of the ills - that we have decided to not speak about in our society - in the ugliest way”.

Somali. Black. Muslim. Woman. Refugee. American: The making of Ilhan Omar
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Omar, who has come under attack from Trump himself, as well as by right-wing media organisations including Fox News and conservative commentators like Megan McCain, added that there had been an attempt to erase the deep-seated history of racism in the United States by merely associating it with the Trump era.

“I think we have to be very consistent in calling [this] out regardless of whether it makes people uncomfortable or not," she said in a telephone interview.

“Because that discomfort will lead us to the kind of changes we want to see. And I think, ultimately, it will lead us to have the kind of America we all deserve," said Omar, a former refugee from Somalia, and one of just two Muslim women ever elected to the US Congress.

Frequently targeted 

Since being elected to Congress in late 2018, Omar has been a frequent target for attacks by Republicans and by right-wing media platforms.

The campaign against her began following a series of tweets that spoke to the use of lobby money in the US support for Israel. She was immediately accused of antisemitism. Omar later apologised for the comments that were seen by some as invoking an antisemitic trope. 

Later, following comments about the 11 September 2001 attacks at a gala hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), she was described as trivialising 9/11 and accused of being anti-American.

This culminated in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post publishing a front page that showed a photo of the World Trade Center in flames together with a partial quote attributed to Omar. The newspaper added the text: “Here’s your something. 2,977 people dead by terrorism" over the photo.

Donald Trump vs Ilhan Omar on Twitter

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During his 2016 election campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly used anti-Muslim bigotry to appeal to his base.  

With the 2020 election season approaching, Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric has only escalated, with a series of attacks on US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

Not only has Trump called for Omar to resign from Congress and from the house committee on foreign affairs, he also linked Omar to the September 11 attacks when he tweeted a video montage that juxtoposed out-of-context comments made by Omar with footage of the 9/11 attacks.

The Congresswoman received a number of death threats after the video was tweeted by Trump.

Omar, as a Black Muslim refugee from Somalia who holds critical and independent positions on Israel, the US military industrial complex, immigration, race, and gender politics, is the very emodiment of that fear Trump wants to tap into with his base.

Trump has even referred to Omar as the leader of the Democratic Party, in a bid to escalate fears of a Muslim immigrant take over of the United States.

But Omar has refused to be bullied into silence. 

In a post on 6 May, she tweeted her comments in a Huffington Post interview in which she had described herself as Trump's "biggest nemesis".

She has tackled his policy on Muslimsrefugees, described him as having 'trafficked in hate your whole life'...

... as well as chiding him over his purported inability to 'be presidential’.

In response, thousands of Yemeni-American bodegas in New York City launched a boycott of the newspaper, arguing they would not sell a newspaper that incited hate against Muslim-Americans.

“This is a triggering moment in our history as American Muslims, as New Yorkers who saw and felt how deeply wounded our city was and felt the backlash and discrimination that we as a community felt… it was devastating for people. And this is why our members feel that we cannot allow this and so we decided to boycott," Debbie Almontaser, co-founder of the Yemeni Association of Merchants (YAMA), told Middle East Eye.

Trump went one step further, tweeting a video montage of 9/11 interspersed with Omar’s words. The video prompted widespread outrage.

Though White House spokesperson, Sarah Sanders, said the president had wished no ill will, Omar said that his tweet had increased the number of threats to her life.


Supporters of Omar have repeatedly argued that Omar has been attacked because of her identity as a black Muslim woman who dares to speak her mind in the corridors of power.

Omar, for her part, is not willing to back down.

"I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans," she said.

Though Omar has been repeatedly smeared by Republicans, she has also been let down by the Democratic Party, who have been slow to come to her defence.

Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist based in New York, told MEE that the American Muslim community would not allow anyone to vilify their leaders.  

"She is Somali-Black-Muslim, wears hijab, anti-war, [a] critic of the state of Israel, unapologetic, pro-immigrant, eloquent and fearless. She is everything I have dreamed about in a leader.”

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