Over the weekend, US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was once again the center of controversy over comments she made about 9/11 and criticism of the comments. Now, voices across the political spectrum and commenting on social media assert that criticism of the freshman congresswoman is incitement to violence against her. This comes after US President Donald Trump condemned her and The New York Post ran a cover focused on her statement.
The controversy began on April 9 with a video of Omar speaking at a March 23 event of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. She was condemned that day by her colleague Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas). "First member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as 'some people who did something,' unbelievable."
Omar responded by quoting former President George W. Bush, who had also referred to "the people," who caused 9/11. Was Bush downplaying the attack – "what if he was a Muslim?" she wondered. Omar argued that for too long "women of color," like herself, had been told to go slow "to not be seen and to not be heard."
Very quickly a narrative formed about how Omar was a victim of the incident. "Republicans are twisting Omar's words," said Think Progress. Eoin Higgins at Common Dreams argued that criticisms of her view were "bigoted, hateful attacks." It was a "plot," the media group Splinter claimed. A "manufactured" and Islamophobic controversy, argued Prof. Todd Green of Luther college. "Always working, always doing her job. She will not be silenced or intimidated – we got her back," wrote Linda Sarsour.
When Trump tweeted "never forget" next to a video of Omar saying "some people did something," he was accused of inciting violence against her. "President Trump understands the weight his words carry. His tweet about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar puts her life and her family's lives at risk," claimed Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Massachusetts).
Soon, "IStandWithIlhan" was trending. "Donald Trump is trying to incite violence," claimed Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). "We must protect Rep. Omar. We cannot allow the President's Islamophobia to incite violence," wrote Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego of Arizona wrote that "the President of the United States is targeting an American citizen and attempting to incite violence." Randi Weingarten of the AFT Union agreed that this was "purposely endangering her safety." The Democratic Coalition also said it was inciting "violence and tensions against women and minorities."
The controversy has developed remarkably similar to how the antisemitism controversy unfolded a month earlier in March when Omar's comments about foreign allegiance stoked concerns about antisemitism. Within a few days, the same coalition had been mobilized to defend her, and the result was a Congressional resolution condemning antisemitism and Islamopobia, instead of condemnations of Omar's views.
"Her identity lies at the intersection of everything white America has been taught to fear and eliminate: black, female, immigrant, visibly Muslim" writes The Washington Post's Global Opinions editor. "It's sad that in America in 2019, we have legitimate reasons to fear for her safety."
Crenshaw, who had critiqued Omar's 9/11 comments, responded to claims that this was inciting violence. "When someone calls out a public official for things they said, it is not endangering their life or inciting violence. Claiming otherwise is just an attempt to silence your critics."
Omar's supporters have created an effective defensive shield for her, asserting that each controversy regarding her comments derives from racism and anti-Muslim views – and now adding to this assertion that criticism incites violence against her and endangers her. Omar continues to symbolize increasing divisions in the US, and each controversy seems to build to a new level of those divisions.
Seth Frantzman is The Jerusalem Post's op-ed editor, a Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a founder of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis.