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Trump and Republicans are using Omar to drive a wedge within the Democratic party and foment hatred of Muslim Americans

When Ilhan Omar became one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress in November, the American Muslim community saw her victory as a symbolic rejoinder to Donald Trump.

Omars remarkable journey from a Somali refugee camp to the Minnesota state legislature and the hallways of the US Capitol stood out among a historically diverse class of freshman lawmakers. The sight of Omars hijab on the House floor, made possible only by a rules change that for the first time in 181 years allowed religious headwear inside the chamber, reinforced the immediacy of her impact.

Four months since taking office, the landscape has dramatically changed.

While weathering numerous controversies, Omar has faced hundreds of death threats and emerged as a perfect foil for Trump and Republicans. All the while, Democrats have largely been split on whether to defend the embattled congresswoman and to what degree.

For Muslim advocates across the country, the attacks against Omar are inextricably linked to her faith and part of a mounting effort by the president and his allies to stoke fears anew ahead of the 2020 election.

Because of her identity as a black, Muslim woman, she is the poster child for the administration to attack, said Hoda Hawa, the director of policy and advocacy at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC).

This administration, and particularly this president, is using her to not only drive a wedge within the Democratic party, but [for] something more sinister: Hes using her to continue to foment fear and hatred against the Muslim American community.

Trumps history of vilifying the Muslim community is well documented. Photograph: Andrew Harnik/AP

A very calculated ploy

Trump on Friday joined Republicans in attacking Omar over comments they argue downplayed the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001.

The president shared a video to his nearly 60 million Twitter followers that spliced together footage of the destruction on 9/11 with Omars remarks at an event hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) last month.


Characterizing the genesis of the organization at the event, Omar said: Cair was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. (Cair was, in fact, established in 1994. Omars spokesperson said the congresswoman misspoke.)

Conservatives seized on Omars remark that some people did something on 9/11 to accuse her of downplaying the terror attacks.

You have to wonder if shes an American first, the Fox News host Brian Kilmeade said on Fox & Friends.

Matt Shuham (@mattshuham)

Brian Kilmeade says of Rep. Ilhan Omar, “You have to wonder if she is an American first.”

Then says, “In the name of religion, they kill Americans and still do it on a daily basis.” pic.twitter.com/IpUDL7u7Xt

April 10, 2019

Republicans piled on and renewed calls for Omar to either resign or be dismissed from her position on the House foreign affairs committee. The Rupert Murdoch-owned New York Post ran a front page featuring Omars words atop an image of the World Trade Center towers engulfed in flames on 9/11 with the retort: Heres your something. Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chairwoman, tweeted: When Ilhan Omar isnt being antisemitic, shes sympathizing with Islamic terrorists.

Trumps own history of vilifying the Muslim community and seeking to exploit the emotions of 9/11 is well documented.

As a candidate, Trump falsely claimed that Muslims celebrated on the roofs of New Jersey as the World Trade Center towers fell. He campaigned on banning all Muslims from entering the US, flirted with the idea of a possible Muslim registry and once declared: Islam hates us.

That Omar has emerged as a target of Trumps has come as little surprise to Muslim groups and anti-discrimination activists, who believe the president and his party are seeking to animate their supporters and drive a wedge through the Democratic party.

Because Ilhan is Muslim and hijab-wearing, she became an immediate target, said James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute.

Its a very calculated ploy to use her both to energize their base and to put Democrats in a quandary about, do they support her or do they shun her.

Asha Noor, a racial justice and human rights activist with Cair Michigan, said there were countless examples of politicians or lawmakers needing to be more careful with the way that they frame their messages and talking points.

The relationship that the president has with the Muslim community is very apparent with certain policies that hes pushed, Noor said, citing Trumps travel ban on Muslim-majority countries.

Omars identity as a black Muslim woman, she said, contributes to the level of hostility that shes facing.

Even before that, his campaign set a tone of Islamophobia and xenophobic commentary, Noor said.

The incitement of violence against Ilhan has just been an escalation of that and further reflective of his attitudes and bias.

He is hateful. He is racist, Beto O Rourke said about Trump. Photograph: UPI/Barcroft Images

This is the test for all of us

Democrats have privately grown frustrated with the relentless focus on Omar, who in recent months sparked controversy for separate remarks on Israel that were criticized for perpetuating Jewish stereotypes.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved a resolution last month condemning both antisemitism and anti-Muslim speech in what was primarily seen as a rebuke of Omars conduct.

Several prominent Democrats, including most 2020 presidential contenders, have denounced Trumps attacks on Omar and framed the moment a pivotal challenge for their own party as they campaign on a platform of inclusivity and tolerance.

This is the test of all tests for us, said Beto ORourke, the former Texas congressman and 2020 candidate, while adding of Trump: Its not just that he is partisan, its not just that he is divisive. He is hateful. He is racist.

Hes trying to incite hatred, Islamophobia and, I would argue, violence against her and other Muslims in this country He has encouraged the worst tendencies amongst our fellow Americans.

Progressives have nonetheless taken issue with the reticent among Democratic leaders to more forcefully defend Omar.

In her initial statement on the subject, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, condemned Trumps actions but made no mention of Omar. When directly confronted with Trumps tweet, the Democratic national committee chairman, Tom Perez, said the president was trying to distract from more serious policy issues.

And some of Omars colleagues have complained that Democratic leadership has fallen short in its efforts to defend her.

They put us in photos when they want to show our party is diverse, Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only other Muslim woman in Congress, tweeted on Saturday. However, when we ask to be at the table, or speak up about issues that impact who we are, what we fight for & why we ran in the first place, we are ignored.

To truly honor our diversity is to never silence us.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/apr/18/trumps-attacks-on-ilhan-omar-aim-to-stoke-fears-ahead-of-the-2020-election