Ilhan Omar in Her Own Words: I Know What Hate Feels Like

March 8, 2019

The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution Thursday condemning anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination, white supremacy and other forms of hate. The vote was 407 to 23, with nearly two dozen Republicans voting against it.

The vote capped a week of intense debate among congressional Democrats that began after some lawmakers accused Democratic Congressmember Ilhan Omar of invoking anti-Semitic tropes while questioning U.S. foreign policy on Israel. At an event last week, Congressmember Omar said, quote, “I want to talk about political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Democrat Eliot Engel, chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on which Ilhan Omar sits, as well, then accused Omar of making a, quote, “vile anti-Semitic slur.”

The House leadership initially drafted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in what was seen as a direct rebuke of Omar. But many progressive Democrats [said] Omar, who is one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in U.S. history, was unfairly being singled out. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders wrote, “We must not equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.” New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’” Key members of the Congressional Black Caucus also questioned the treatment of Omar.

The split within the Democratic Party forced the leadership to withdraw its initial anti-Semitism resolution and present a much broader one. Congressmember Ilhan Omar voted for and praised the new resolution. She issued a joint statement with fellow Muslim lawmakers Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and André Carson of Indiana, saying, quote, “We are tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism, and white supremacy. … Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress,” they said. They went on to write, “Today is historic on many fronts. It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry.”

AMY GOODMAN: Later in the show, we’ll go to Tel Aviv and Washington for response to the controversy, but first let’s turn to Ilhan Omar in her own words, speaking last week at Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington, D.C. While the media has largely focused on a single sentence in her remarks, few have heard her broader comments. This is a part of what she said.

REP. ILHAN OMAR: It’s almost as if every single time we say something, regardless of what it is we say, that is supposed to be about foreign policy, our engagement, our advocacy about ending oppression or the freeing of every human life and wanting dignity, we get to be labeled in something, and that ends the discussion, because we end up defending that, and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.

So, for me, I want to talk about—I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. I want to ask: Why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy? Right?

I want to ask the question—I want to ask the question of why is it OK for you to push, for you to be—there are so many people. I mean, most of us are new, but many members of Congress have been there forever. Some of them have been there before we were born. So I know many of them, many of them, were fighting—were fighting for people to be freed, for people to live in dignity in South Africa. I know many of them fight for people around the world to have dignity, to have self-determination. So I know—I know that they care about these things. But now that you have two Muslims who are saying, “Here is a group of people that we want to make sure they have the dignity that you want everybody else to have,” we get to be called names, and we get to be labeled as hateful?

No, we know what hate looks like. We experience it every single day. I have colleagues who talk about death threats. I have colleagues who talk about death threats. And sometimes—there are cities in my state where the gas stations have written on their bathrooms, “Assassinate Ilhan Omar.” I have people driving around my district looking for my home, for my office, causing me harm. I have people, every single day, on Fox News and everywhere, posting that I am a threat to this country. So I know what fear looks like. The masjid, the masjid I pray in, in Minnesota, got bombed by two domestic white terrorists. So I know what it feels to be someone who is of faith that is vilified. I know what it means to be of someone who is of ethnicity that is vilified. I know what it feels to be—


REP. ILHAN OMAR: —of a race, of a race—right? Like, I am an immigrant, so I don’t have the historical drama that some of my black sisters and brothers have in this country. But I know—I know what it means for people to just see me as a black person and to treat me as less than a human.

And so, when people say, “You are bringing hate,” I know what their intention is. Their intention is to make sure that our lights are dimmed, that we walk around with our heads bowed, that we lower our face and our voice.

But we have news for people. You can call us any kind of name. You can threaten us any kind of way. Rashida and I are not ourselves. Every single day we walk in the halls of Congress, we have people who have never had the opportunity to walk. They’re walking with us. So, we’re here. We’re here to stay and represent the voices of people who have been silenced for many decades and generations. And we’re here to fight for the people of our district, who want to make sure that there is actual prosperity—actual prosperity—being guaranteed, because there is a direct correlation between not having a clean water and starting endless wars. It’s all about the profit and who gets benefit of it. There’s a direct correlation—there is a direct correlation between corporations that are getting rich and the fact that we have students that are shackled with debt. There is a direct correlation between the White House and the people who are benefiting from having detention beds that are profitized.

So, what people are afraid of is not that there are two Muslims in Congress. What people are afraid of is that there are two Muslims in Congress that have their eyes wide open, that have their feet to the ground, that know what they’re talking about, that are fearless, and that understand that they have the same election certificate as everyone else in Congress.

Source: Democracy Now