A week ago, a sign was displayed at the West Virginia state capitol linking freshman Congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, a black Muslim woman, to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Although the Republican Party said they had nothing to do with the sign, this is another example of a freshman minority Congresswoman being targeted by racial and religious bigotry.
The newly elected freshman class of Democratic representatives is the most diverse group of representatives in history. The group includes two Muslim women, with Omar the first to wear a hijab in Congress; a latino woman, who happens to be the youngest representative ever elected to Congress at the age of 29; the first black woman to be elected to Congress from Massachusetts; and two Native American women.
Yet, instead of America celebrating this diversity, these women have been victims of a plethora of attacks, even extending from their own side of the aisle. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Latino freshman representative from The Bronx, has even been criticized for being a Girl Scout.
When any of these freshman Democrats say or do virtually anything, there is a strong conservative knee jerk response that dominates their message. Although no politician is exempt from criticism, these hateful responses are unique because of the racism and bigotry behind them.
Admittedly, the media is partly to blame for singling out these women and giving them an unusual amount of attention. However, the attention is warranted because of the historical significance of their representation.
The year 2019 began with Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan who, alongside Omar, is one of two Muslim women to enter Congress, was filmed calling Donald Trump a profane insult. Although the President and many other members of the Republican Party have said far worse, the backlash against Tlaib included her race and religious beliefs, with one Florida politician even warning that Tlaib may blow up the white house.
These attacks aren’t a new phenomenon, they’ve been around since the beginning of politics in America. Whenever a minority enters politics they are victims of bigoted harassment. But it is the first time in history that so many minorities have entered the political arena and that is why these bigoted attacks have concrete power.
Congress has recently passed a joint resolution to condemn all forms of bigotry (it was originally a resolution to condemn anti-semitism). This was only after Congresswoman Ilhan Omar criticized the power of an influential Jewish lobbying firm and questioned the United State’s allegiance to Israel.
Omar responded to these threats on Twitter, stating, “No wonder why I am on the ‘Hitlist’ of a domestic terrorist and “Assassinate Ilhan Omar” is written on my local gas stations.”
Omar brought up valid criticisms that the First Amendment protects. However, her mistake was unknowingly using words that have historic anti-semitic connotations: the dual allegiance trope that white supremacists use to suggest Jewish people (and Muslims too) cannot be patriotic because they hold allegiance to a foreign country.
She immediately received backlash, even from her own party, and most importantly from President Trump who called on her to resign. Some Democrats suggested her remarks were anti-semitic, others suggested they weren’t. But the Republican backlash was fierce and brought out a lot of ugliness that completely sidelined any productive talks in Congress.
The swift condemnation from Congress was faster than any other issue Congress should have condemned in the past few years. No doubt, Representative Omar’s race identity played a part.
These freshmen women have extraordinary power because of the representation they bring to Congress. This power also makes them a bigger target. As all of the Democrats voted to condemn all forms of bigotry, 23 Republicans voted against it, showing the moral compass of Congress.
By Ryan Nickerson
Photo credit: AP