Yemeni-American stores boycott New York Post over Omar 9/11 front page
"Every morning, the most powerful and influential people in the most powerful and influential city on earth wake up and read the New York Post," is how Rupert Murdoch's News Corp describes America's oldest continuosly published newspaper.
But a network of thousands of convenience stores in New York City owned by Yemeni-Americans is trying to change that, following the paper’s publication last week of a front page that took remarks made by Ilhan Omar about the 9/11 attacks out of context and used them to launch a visceral attack on the congresswoman.
At a press briefing on Sunday, the Yemeni Association of Merchants, known as YAMA, said its members’ stores would no longer stock the New York Post and told reporters that the newspaper’s distortion of Omar’s words was an overture for more bigotry and violence against America's Muslim community.
“Our organisation decided to speak at this moment, because we were outraged by the NY Post coverage of representative Ilhan Omar, juxtaposed with the World Trade Centre attack on 9/11,” Debbie Almontaser, co founder of YAMA, told Middle East Eye.
“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.”
The front page in question, published last Thursday, showed a photo of the World Trade Centre in flames together with a distorted quote attributed to Omar. Over the photo, in bold, was the text: “Here’s your something. 2,977 people dead by terrorism.”
The cover was a response to a video circulating online showing Omar describing 9/11 as “something some people did”. In fact, this phrase was used in passing in a speech given at the end of March, as part of a description of how the actions of a few terrorists had led to a sharp increase in anti-Muslim discrimination and a serious curtailing of civil liberties in the United States.
These quotes were removed from their context and also latched on to by Fox News, where one host, Brian Kilmeade, said: "You have to wonder if she's an American first."
Following the publication of the front page, US President Donald Trump tweeted a video in which Omar’s out-of-context quotes were interlaced in an edited video with 9/11 footage, prompting widespread condemnation. Omar said on Sunday that Trump's tweet has resulted in a series of death threats.
“It was an attack on American Muslims, it was an attack on communities of colour who have also been victimised by the NY Post,” Almontaser said.
“We support free speech, but we will not accept the incitement of violence against Muslims.”
Ahmed Mohamed, from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), one of the co-signatories for the call to boycott the paper, told MEE that he was encouraged by YAMA’s decision to leverage its economic power to fight for justice.
“Boycott is a fundamental right, and it’s extremely important to a take a stance on this issue... we know that hate speech leads to violence," Mohamed said.
News Corp had not responded to MEE’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Thousands of Yemeni-Americans famously closed their stores and took to the streets to protest Trump’s Muslim ban when it was first introduced in 2017. It was this moment that culminated in the birth of YAMA, as the community realised it was likely to be the first of many actions under the Trump administration.
"Our community has been very civic-engaged since February 2019, and if they see something, they speak up. They contacted us and wanted to know how we are going to react to this newspaper," said Ayyad Algabyali, director of advocacy for YAMA.
Algabyali told MEE there were more than 4,000 bodegas in NYC affiliated with YAMA, and hundreds of owners had already agreed to participate in the boycott, which will continue for the next month.
“This is a message to the NY Post but also to all media outlets that we aren’t going to stand around while you continue to vilify and smear our communities,” said Linda Sarsour, a long-time activist and co-founder of MPower Change, the first Muslim online organising platform in the US.