For the first time in American history, there are two female Muslim members of Congress—and the relentless attacks on the pair from the right are designed to "silence" them.
"We cannot allow those who seek to divide and intimidate us to succeed" — Rep. Ilhan Omar
That was the read from Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), referring to efforts from President Donald Trump and other members of the Republican Party, both in Washington and in the media, to portray her and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) as anti-Semites.
Tlaib was targeted by the president on Monday, as Common Dreams reported, for comments the congresswoman made to Yahoo News podcast "Skullduggery" in which she said that while Palestinians lost their homeland to the creation of the state of Israel, there was at least a "calming effect" knowing it was done for a people that had just been slaughtered in the Holocaust.
"When someone like the president tweets something like that, it's not an attack only on myself, but it becomes an attack on all Muslims, it becomes an attack on women of color, it becomes an attack on immigrants and refugees," Omar told MSNBC host Chris Hayes, referring to attacks from the president in April on Omar's comments about 9/11. "That message was being used to vilify anyone who shared an identity with me, to other them and to say you don’t belong."
Omar made the comments in an interview with Hayes Tuesday. The conversation touched on recent controversies over remarks from Omar and Tlaib on Israel that have been mischaracterized by the right in an effort to delegitimize criticism of the Middle Eastern country, a major U.S. ally.
But, said Omar, the deeper intent of the relentless attacks is to remove her and Tlaib from the public square—an intent that the American people are wise to in ways they perhaps weren't in the past.
"I think we are seeing what happens when people really see these attacks for what they are," said Omar. "It is designed to silence, sideline, and almost eliminate the public voice of Muslims from the public discourse."
On @allinwithchris, Rep. Ilhan Omar responds to criticism from the GOP over remarks made by Rep. Rashida Tlaib: We have "the strength to endure any of the mischaracterization or efforts to distort... our message."— 11th Hour (@11thHour) May 15, 2019
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Omar added that she is hopeful that Americans will come together to oppose the lies and attacks against her and Tlaib.
It's a message the freshman congresswoman pushed in an op-ed for CNN earlier Tuesday, co-authored with Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.). In their piece, the two women argued that Muslims and Jews in America have more in common than sets them apart and need to have solidarity in the face of a nascent white nationalist movement that's becoming ever more violent and dangerous.
"As a Muslim American and a Jewish American elected to the United States Congress, we can no longer sit silently as terror strikes our communities," the two congresswomen said in the opinion piece. "We cannot allow those who seek to divide and intimidate us to succeed."
The rhetoric and the rising right-wing movement have had an effect on the security of American Jews and Muslims, reported HuffPost.
Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. have been on the rise in recent years, reaching near-record levels last year, per the Anti-Defamation League. There has also been an increase in anti-Muslim bias incidents in recent years, with a 15 percent increase in hate crimes targeting American Muslims from 2016 to 2017, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
"Whatever our differences," wrote Omar and Schakowsky, "our two communities, Muslim and Jewish, must come together to confront the twin evils of anti-Semitic and Islamophobic violence."
The president has been tied to elements in the American right that perpetuate those bigotries on a number of occasions, once infamously referring to a neo-Nazi march as being comprised, at least in part, by "good people."
One of Omar and Tlaib's most vociferous critics, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), was a moderator for a virulently Islamophobic Facebook page before deciding to run for office; another member of the House GOP caucus, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), has longstanding ties to anti-Semitic and white supremacist factions in both American and European politics.