Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is often presented in the press as the quintessential Muslim American, representing the values of an increasingly politically active class of voters who cling to their religious convictions while embracing progressive activism. She has unilaterally established the boundaries of appropriate discussion among Muslims, labelling any topic "Islamophobic" that infringes upon her carefully curated image as a champion of the oppressed. Yet, when it comes to Omar's flirtations with Islamist dictators such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, her agenda could not be more at odds with the Muslim Americans she claims to represent.
While serving as a Minnesota state legislator in September 2017, Omar met Erdoğan in a closed-door meeting. She gleefully tweeted about her experience in her native Somali, and it was covered in official Turkish media. The only U.S.-based coverage of the exchange came from a Somali-language newspaper article that explained how Erdogan concluded the meeting by asking Omar to pledge support for Turkey.
Omar and Erdoğan make fitting partners. Under the Turkish dictator's rule, Turkey has become a stronghold for Islamists and a Muslim Brotherhood hub. Concurrently, Omar has cultivated strong bonds with Islamists both American and foreign Islamists loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Omar has not been shy about vocalizing this support on social media. She praised the Islamist regime in Ankara for the "humane way" that it ordered medical evacuations from Mogadishu in the aftermath of a deadly 2017 bombing. Yet, the Minnesota Democrat has categorically ignored the Turkish-orchestrated genocides in northern Syria documented by numerous international human rights organizations.
Instead, Omar has blamed President Donald Trump for the bloody outcome in Syria, accusing him of using "dehumanizing language" and deeming him a "threat to global peace."
On the other end, Omar received campaign donations in September 2019 from Halil Mutulu, the co-chairman of the Turkish American National Steering Committee (TASC), a political advocacy group with close ties to Erdoğan.
In October, Omar voted in favor of two controversial bills which happened to coincide with Turkish foreign policy interests. First, she was the only House Democrat to vote against a bill threatening to impose fresh sanctions on Turkey for its military action in northern Syria.
Her reactions was bashed by NBA basketball star Enes Kanter, a Turkish exile and prominent regime critic, Kanter said the congresswoman "seems like [she is] on Dictator Erdogan's payroll [and is] working for his interests, but not for the American people and democracy." The Boston Celtics player is a wanted man by Erdoğan's regime for supporting exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan's well known archenemy who is currently residing in the U.S. Turkish state media went as far as censoring his image on the basketball court during broadcasts of NBA games.
Second, affirming her allegiance with Erdoğan's regime, Omar abstained on a resolution to condemn the historical Armenian Genocide, which Turkey continues to deny. Omar deflected criticism by arguing that any true acknowledgment of genocide should include the transatlantic slave trade and Native American genocide.
Iraqi–American journalist Dalia al-Aqidi, one of Omar's staunchest opponents, criticized the congresswoman's decision to deny the Armenian Genocide. "What if we change the name from Turkey to Israel, would your reaction be the same?" she asked.
Omar's apparent loyalty to an oppressive Islamist tyrant fails to mesh with her self-proclaimed status as a champion of human rights. "I believe in an inclusive foreign policy — one that centers on human rights, justice and peace as the pillars of America's engagement in the world," she wrote in the Washington Post. According to Omar, peace is only achievable when we "apply our universal values to all nations."
That is, all nations except Turkey, apparently. Erdoğan continues to jail critical journalists at rates outpacing any other country. Erdoğan's Turkey has been a hub for fugitives members of terrorist organizations -- members such as the Muslim Brotherhood and even ISIS. The Turkish president's Islamist ideals are reflected in his belief in the resurrection of the Ottoman Caliphate as the protector of Muslim minorities around the world, from India to China. As with Erdoğan, Omar looks to Islamists to speak on behalf of the Muslim community, and she remains the darling and frequent guest speaker of the domestic Islamist organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Turkey is not the only Islamist regime that Omar chooses to embrace. Shockingly, she denounced the targeted killing of terrorist mastermind Qassem Soleimani by writing, "We are outraged the president would assassinate a foreign official." Omar ignored the fact Soleimani was responsible for the deaths of 600 U.S. service members in Iraq, including the December death of a U.S. defense contractor at the hands of an Iranian-back militia.
Omar's Islamist platform is increasingly at odds with the Muslim women she claims to represent. Former Miss Universe Iraq, Sarah Idan has described Omar's behavior as "Anti-American and Anti-Semitic," adding that, "Ilhan Omar does not represent me as a Muslim – does not represent millions of Muslims in the Middle East."
These sentiments are shared by Shireen Qudosi, a Muslim reformer and Clarion Project national correspondent who condemned Omar in an article titled: "Ilhan Omar Doesn't Represent American Muslims, She Represents Islamists."Qudosi accused Omar of dividing the Muslim American community and exposing it to "debilitating chaos."
Egyptian-British Muslim political analyst Nervana Mahmoud's summarized Omar's status as an Islamist in a tweet: "Ilhan Omar is not a liberal Muslim with a headscarf; she is an Islamist with a deceptive liberal cover that aims to alienate real progressive Muslims, and present herself and her Islamist clans as useful voices in the fight against US president Trump."
Exploiting her position as a congresswoman, Omar has repeatedly placed her Islamist affiliations as a priority ahead of all else. She has been happy to offer compassion towards Muslims, such as Indian Kashmiris or Chinese Uyghurs, when a non-Islamist is the "oppressor." But she is willing to neglect the plight of Muslim Kurds who are being displaced and massacred on the orders of a Turkish Islamist tyrant. If Omar continues to selectively promote human rights causes based solely on the radical ideology of the perpetrator, she risks dividing her base of support. Omar's Islamist backers may wield great influence, but it remains to be seen if they possess the grassroots power and voting numbers to sustain Omar's political career indefinitely.
Hany Ghoraba is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum. He writes for Al Ahram Weekly and is the author of Egypt's Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy.