At a conference on Muslim Americans' rights and involvement in politics on Tuesday, Rep. Ilhan Omar vehemently rejected the suggestion by an attendee that, as one of two Muslim women in Congress, she should make a statement about female genital mutilation or other issues affecting Muslim communities around the world and in the United States.
Ani Osman-Zonneveld of the human rights group Muslims for Progressive Values told Omar that "it would be really powerful if the two Muslim congresswomen, yourself and Rashida [Tlaib] would make a statement on this issue."
Omar and Tlaib, who are Somali American and Palestinian American respectively, should not be expected to condemn female genital mutilation (FGM), Al Qaeda, or any other group or practice embraced in some parts of the world where many Muslims live, any more than other American politicians are asked to do so, the Minnesota Democrat said.
"Should I make a schedule?" Omar asked. "Does this need to be on repeat every five minutes? Should I be like, 'So today I forgot to condemn al-Qaeda, so here's the al-Qaeda one, today I forgot to condemn FGM, so here it goes, today I forgot to condemn Hamas, so here it goes, you know what I mean?"
The first-term congresswoman added that—in addition to her work fighting for numerous progressive causes including Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and economic justice—she has in fact condemned FGM through legislation she's supported and statements she's made.
"You can look at my record, I voted for bills doing exactly what you're asking me to do," Omar said. "I've put out statements upon statements. There's a bill in Congress, there's a resolution that I am the co-author of, that I voted out of the Foreign Affairs Committee...and then we're in a panel like this and the question is posed: 'Could you and Rashida do this?'"
Osman-Zonneveld's question was indicative of an assumption among many Americans, Omar said, that Muslims in Congress might be sympathetic to communities which practice FGM or to violent groups like Al Qaeda.
"As Muslim legislators we are constantly being asked to waste our time speaking to issues that other people are not asked to speak to because the assumption exists that we somehow support and are for [these practices]," Omar said.
The exchange came in the wake of racist remarks by President Donald Trump about Omar's background as a Somali refugee who came to the U.S. as a child. The president tweeted that Omar and other progressive women of color in Congress should "go back" to the countries "from which they came," paused for 13 seconds during a campaign speech to allow rally-goers to chant, "Send her back!" in regards to Omar, and made a baseless claim at the rally that Omar had expressed pride in Al Qaeda.
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Questions suggesting that Omar should confirm for the public that she does not support FGM are another way of marginalizing members of Congress like her and Tlaib, the congresswoman said.
"What this whole conversation is about is that not only do we have internalized fears about what we might believe and how that gets implemented, but that we also don't have assumptions about what our value basis might be because of where we might come from and who we pray to," Omar said. "If you want us to speak as politicians, American politicians, then you treat us as such."
Omar received applause for her comments at the event and a number of Muslims living in the U.S., as well as progressive organizations, praised her remarks.
"Most Muslims born and brought up in the West,' tweeted journalist Mehdi Hasan, "have been waiting our whole lives for a politician who is Muslim to get elected and deliver an answer like this to the 'usual' questions."
Most Muslims born and brought up in the west - including, erm, me - have been waiting our whole lives for a politician who is Muslim to get elected and deliver an answer like this to the ‘usual’ Qs. I felt like cheering as I listened to @IlhanMN deliver this powerful riposte. https://t.co/GyoXcFQrqM
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) July 24, 2019
— MoveOn (@MoveOn) July 24, 2019
Honestly Ilhan Omar's face here is a MOOD.
"I forgot to condemn Hamas, FGM and just existing as a Muslim today." pic.twitter.com/jF1BsOJfZE
— Sarah Malik (@sarahbmalik) July 24, 2019
Was that Muslim attendee unaware that Omar had already condemned FGM? Was she oblivious to the fact that right-wing bigots exploit FGM as a talking point to drown prominent Muslims in harmful stereotypes?
— Amer I. Khan (@theamerikhan) July 24, 2019