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Rep. Ilhan Omar Faces Death Threats & “Dangerous Hate Campaign” as Right-Wing Attacks Continue

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Minnesota freshman Congressmember Ilhan Omar says death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. Trump posted the video Friday with the caption, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.” Trump’s tweet intercut video of the World Trade Center towers burning with video of Omar speaking about the increasing attacks on the Muslim American community after 9/11. Congressmember Omar’s comments were originally taken out of context and circulated by right-wing media, from The Daily Caller to Fox News. Congressmember Omar said in a statement, “This is endangering lives. It has to stop.” We speak with Moustafa Bayoumi, the author of “This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror.” His Guardian article is headlined “Ilhan Omar has become the target of a dangerous hate campaign.” Bayoumi is an English professor at Brooklyn College at the City University of New York. He is also the author of “How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America.”

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Minnesota freshman Congressmember Ilhan Omar says death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks. Trump posted the 43-second video Friday with the caption, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.” The president’s tweet intercut video of the World Trade Center towers burning with video of Omar speaking about the increasing attacks on the Muslim American community after 9/11. Omar was speaking at a Council on American-Islamic Relations event last month.

REP. ILHAN OMAR: Far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. And frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. 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.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: CAIR was in fact founded in 1994. Omar’s spokesperson later said she misspoke and, quote, “meant to refer to the fact that the organization had doubled in size after the Sept. 11 attacks,” end of quote. Congressmember Omar’s comments were originally taken out of context and circulated by right-wing media, from The Daily Caller to Fox News. In a statement, Congressmember Omar said, quote, “Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life—many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video. This is endangering lives. It has to stop.”

AMY GOODMAN: The hashtag #StandWithIlhan trended as conservative voices continued to attack Congressmember Omar over the weekend. Trump said on Twitter Monday he’s heading to Minnesota. Omar tweeted, “The Great State of Minnesota, where we don’t only welcome immigrants, we send them to Washington #NoBanAct.”

In New York City, Yemeni bodega owners responded to the attacks against Congressmember Omar by announcing they’re boycotting the sale and purchase of the New York Post over its front-page attack on Omar. The Murdoch-owned daily paper featured an image of the burning Twin Towers on 9/11, referencing Omar’s comment out of context, “9/11 Was 'Some People Did Something,'” and the words “Here’s Your Something” in large print over the photo. The Yemeni American Merchants Association said the cover “provoked hatred” and targeted people of the Muslim faith.

To talk more about Congressmember Ilhan Omar, we’re joined by Moustafa Bayoumi, the author of This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, his recent Guardian piece headlined “Ilhan Omar has become the target of a dangerous hate campaign.” Moustafa Bayoumi is an English professor at Brooklyn College in the City University of New York, also the author of How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America.

Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Talk about what others have said over time. This is the argument you make in your piece, “Ilhan Omar has become the target of a dangerous hate campaign.” Give us a few quotes.

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: Sure. Well, I mean, if you think—if you just have even a short-term memory, I think you can remember that George W. Bush, the former president of the United States, said something to the effect of—when referring to the 9/11 attackers, said something to the effect of, “Well, these folks committed this act.”

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. Actually, we’ve got that clip.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: … full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.

AMY GOODMAN: “To find the folks who committed this act.”

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: Yeah. So, that, in—to my ear, that sounds quite similar to what Ilhan Omar said. And, in fact, George Bush is saying it to the whole country, and he’s not considered to be anti-American for that statement whatsoever. So, in fact, I think what Ilhan Omar is saying is completely within the boundaries of what is normal political discourse in this country. And we could go one. That’s one example.

Another example would be Ilhan Omar is now accused of claiming that—her detractors will say that she claims that Jewish people in the United States suffer from a dual loyalty campaign. Well, in fact, actually, she did not say that. So, I think it’s important to qualify what she did say and what she did not say. She talked about questions of allegiance. And if we listen to your last segment and we talk about anti-BDS laws, in fact, those are in fact allegiance laws that are built into now the very system of the United States. However, somebody did say something that was in fact claiming dual loyalty for Jewish Americans, and that would be our president now, Donald Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what he said.

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: He said something to the effect of—when speaking to a Jewish American group, he said something about—

AMY GOODMAN: The Jewish Republican Coalition in Las Vegas last week.

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: In fact, that’s right. And he said, “Well, let me talk about your prime minister.” So he referred to Benjamin Netanyahu as their prime minister.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: How do you account for this enormous campaign that has been launched against this freshman congressmember in terms of by so many conservatives and right-wing groups in the country and by the president himself? In your sense, what’s behind it?

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: Well, on one level, it’s very clear. Ilhan Omar is one of two Muslim women elected to Congress, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. That gives her, I think, a certain level of prominence, along with a certain level of vulnerability. Not only that, but, of course, being openly Muslim, she wears hijab. She covers her hair. She’s a refugee. She’s an immigrant. She’s a black woman. So she occupies all of those vulnerable positions in our society today.

But it’s not only that, I believe, if you ask me, because if she were a quiet black refugee woman from Somalia, Muslim who covered her hair, and all of that stuff, then I think people would love to trot her out for the optics alone. But she’s not a quiet congresswoman. In fact, I think that’s a great thing. In fact, she seems to be a highly principled and highly effective politician, even just in the short time that she’s been in Congress. So, I think that, in fact, she’s a scary figure to a lot of people who are on the right, and even sometimes to the mainstream establishment of the Democratic Party, as well.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was going to be my follow-up. What about the reaction of the establishment of the Democratic Party to the threats against her and to the scapegoating of her?

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: Yes. Well, you know, I think that what we saw was in fact, in some ways, a litmus test of where the Democratic leadership and also those vying for the presidency lie on one of the more important issues of our day, which is Islamophobia, fundamentally. What we saw with Nancy Pelosi’s statement, for example, on Ilhan Omar was, I thought, extremely disappointing. I thought she was refusing to name Ilhan Omar explicitly, was not—didn’t come out in her defense, and in fact was backhandedly accusing her of sacralizing—or, desacralizing, I should say, the 9/11 territory, which was not the point of this controversy at all. So, I thought that Nancy Pelosi’s response was, in fact, quite shameful.

AMY GOODMAN: And now she’s being attacked for criticizing Stephen Miller for his fierce anti-immigrant views, being told that because she’s talking about Stephen Miller in the administration, she is singling out a Jewish member of the administration, which proves she is anti-Semitic. We had on Dr. David Glosser, who is Stephen Miller’s uncle, his sister’s son, who criticized his nephew for his extremist anti-immigrant views.

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: Yeah, exactly. I mean, does that mean that Ilhan Omar can only criticize Ilhan Omar? That would be the natural result of that. She’s not criticizing Stephen Miller for his Jewishness. She’s criticizing Stephen Miller for the positions that he holds. And that’s completely within the boundaries of American political discourse.

AMY GOODMAN: So what does this mean for Muslims around the country? Ilhan Omar says she herself has faced this spike in death threats against her. President Trump pinning the tweet of the video where he’s juxtaposed the 9/11 attacks with Ilhan Omar? We know about the attacks on the Tree of Life synagogue, the 11 Jewish worshipers that were killed, with the killer citing the same words that President Trump used—”invaders,” “invasion.” President Trump’s words and what he tweets has meaning.

MOUSTAFA BAYOUMI: Absolutely. In fact, there was a study that was performed last year—that was published last year, that said that there’s a direct correlation with Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim tweets and the rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes. So, Twitter and hate crimes, unfortunately, are connected. And they’re not only connected in the United States, they’re connected internationally, as well. That’s what the study found. And, in fact, not only is what Donald Trump tweeted completely disturbing, but it’s also coming within weeks of 50 people being killed in New Zealand in two different mosques by a man who also felt himself connected to President Trump and his ideology.

AMY GOODMAN: And let’s not forget what the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded to President Trump when he asked what can he do, when he called the prime minister, and she said, “Respect the Muslim community,” as she then put on hijab herself to comfort the families of those killed. We want to thank you, Moustafa Bayoumi, for being here, author of This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, professor at Brooklyn College. We’ll link to your piece in The Guardian.

This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We have job openings at democracynow.org, and you can sign up for our newsletter there, as well. Thanks so much.

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