Can We Please Stop Pretending That Ilhan Omar “Controversy” is a Real Thing?

The entire Ilhan Omar "Controversy" is contrived and destructuve. It's time to stop giving it airtime| Source: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Alongside “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” “Donald Trump” and “Robert Mueller,” the name “Ilhan Omar” must be the most regularly cited in the news cycle of 2019 so far. First it was the “shocking controversy” of her reference to the America Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) as an entity which seeks to exert influence over U.S. politics. This apparently was a grossly incorrect and anti-Semitic remark because AIPAC is in fact…a Capitol Hill lobby group that spent over $3.5 million in 2018 on pro-Israel advocacy.

More recently, Omar committed the egregious crime of referring to the September 11 terror attacks as “something” that “some people did.” Cue outraged diatribes by everyone from the President to a litany of Fox News nodding heads, united in consternation at the audacity of this Democratic Representative from Minnesota. What a terrible human being Ilhan Omar is, apparently.

A Convenient Distraction

Hypocrisy is by no means the exclusive preserve of the American right wing. It is however, the entire basis on which most of the cringeworthy faux-outrage director at Rep. Omar is coming from.

In reality, there is little need to debate whether Omar is actually an anti-Semite or not, because this is no more than a political smear designed to feed into racial lowest-common-denominator politics. The basic underlying fact of the contrived “controversy” is that Rep. Omar’s religion and ethnicity makes her a political target for some. She is after all, a black female Muslim – not a particularly vocal or flamboyant one, but visible enough to make certain people uncomfortable.

The logical smear against a Muslim in her position is that she is anti-Semitic, because the stereotype is that ‘Muslims hate Jews.’ Likewise, quoting her comments on September 11 wildly out of context is a useful smear, because it portrays this scary Muslim ‘furriner’ as a terror sympathizer. Such use of racist tropes to smear a prominent liberal figure is depressingly familiar to anyone who remembers Barack Obama being described as “uppity“.

Can We Please Cut The Crap?

Ilhan Omar is as much of an anti-Semitic radical Muslim as Donald Trump is a Chinese Buddhist. Her entire track record and public history is a matter of public record, and they speak very plainly. Except in the realm of fantasy, Americans in Minnesota or elsewhere are not in the habit of electing Jihadists who want to burn the flag and make it mandatory for students to recite “Death to America” every morning at school. The entire ongoing conversation around her is a thinly-veiled dog whistle intended to rile up a voting base of ethno-religious supremacists, as well as draw attention away from America’s actual Antisemitism problem – which is overwhelmingly right wing – by projecting it onto the left.

None of this is a groundbreaking revelation because everyone with even a passing experience of modern American right wing spaces understands that this is how today’s Republican Party leadership has chosen to operate. Instead of putting forward a workable conservative vision for America, they are committed instead to fighting an unwinnable, drawn-out culture and race war that achieves nothing except keeping a minority of the population in a heightened state of irrational fear and anger.

In the days since the public attacks of Rep. Omar by the usual suspects, a Florida man has been arrested for making threatening phone calls to Congress members, specifically referencing Rep. Omar as a “towelhead” whom he would “throw off the Empire State building.” If this does not stop, this will be the new reality of American public discourse – not so much a step backward as a leap 70 years back in time.

It is time to call out this ridiculous charade for what it is and stop pretending as if those who previously described violent anti-Semites as “very fine people” and bragged about having the tallest building in New York after 9/11, suddenly care about these things because a black Muslim woman is involved.