White House escalates attacks on Omar over 9/11 comments

Congresswoman’s comments ‘absolutely disgraceful’, Sarah Sanders says

US congresswoman Ilhan Omar discussed the problem of Islamophobia and described “the discomfort of being a second-class citizen” in a speech last month. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

US congresswoman Ilhan Omar discussed the problem of Islamophobia and described “the discomfort of being a second-class citizen” in a speech last month. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/AFP/Getty Images

 

The White House escalated its assault on the Muslim American congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Sunday, after Donald Trump repeatedly tweeted video footage of September 11th and accused Omar of downplaying the terror attacks.

Supported by a wave of Democrats saying Trump was wilfully misrepresenting comments by Omar in what amounted to dangerous racist bullying, the congresswoman on Saturday said she would not be silenced by “an administration that ran on banning Muslims from this country”.

“No one person – no matter how corrupt, inept, or vicious – can threaten my unwavering love for America,” Omar tweeted.

But on Sunday White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insisted that Omar, a Somali-American who became one of the first Muslim women in Congress when she was elected in November and who is the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber, was in the wrong.

“I find her comments to be absolutely disgraceful and unbefitting of a member of Congress,” Sanders said, “and I think that it’s a good thing that the president is calling her out.”

Sanders dismissed expressions of concern by Democrats that Trump was inciting violence against Omar, who has received death threats, and other Muslim Americans.

“The president is wishing no ill-will and certainly not violence toward anyone,” said Sanders. “But the president is absolutely and should be calling out the congresswoman.”

Islamophobia

Omar has come in for a ceaseless drubbing from the right over a snippet from a speech last month to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair), in which she discussed the problem of Islamophobia and described “the discomfort of being a second-class citizen”.

“Cair was founded after 9/11,” Omar said, “because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

In response, Trump tweeted, retweeted and then pinned atop his Twitter account – ensuring maximum views – a video splicing looped footage of Omar’s remark with footage of the 9/11 attacks, including graphic footage of aircraft striking the World Trade Center and of the Twin Towers falling.

Trump’s attack picked up and amplified a cover run by the tabloid New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, which splashed a quote from Omar over a picture of the World Trade Center in flames.

In response to the Post cover, a group of New York City corner-store owners announced a boycott of the newspaper.

The Yemeni American Merchants Association, which represents Yemeni Americans who own and run an estimated 4,000 to 5,000 of New York City’s thousands of delis and corner stores, known as “bodegas,” wrote that the front page “provoked hatred” and “aims to harm Omar and her family and other people of the Islamic faith”.

“This rhetoric threatens the safety and wellbeing of Omar, Muslim leaders, and the larger Muslim American community at a time when Islamophobia is at an all-time high,” it added.

Omar, who represents a district including the city of Minneapolis, has been in Congress just over three months but already she has been targeted by Trump more than once. In February, after Omar suggested support for Israel was fuelled by donations from a lobby group, she was accused of anti-Semitism.

Omar apologised “unequivocally”. But she has declined to admit a similar mistake over her 9/11 comment, despite intense pressure.

“I did not run for Congress to be silent,” she tweeted on Saturday. “I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans.”

Many Democrats, including more than a dozen presidential candidates, issued statements of support for Omar, though activists were careful to note that some of the statements, which supported Omar by name, were stronger than others. – Guardian News and Media 2019