Donald Trump has used footage of the 9/11 attacks to personally attack Muslim congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, on Twitter in his latest act of xenophobia. Trump tweeted a video including a statement made by Omar during a speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) on 23 March, whereby in reference to the 9/11 attacks she stated “some people did something”. The statement was accompanied by dramatic music, images of the twin towers burning, and the words “WE WILL NEVER FORGET”, implying Omar was dismissing the scale of the 9/11 attacks. The point Ilhan Omar was trying to highlight is that Muslims in the U.S. have been further stigmatised and discriminated against in American society since 9/11. Yet in doing so, the congresswoman has received hate-fuelled abuse and violent death threats.
Republicans and Trump supporters have condemned Omar for the statement, many questioning her allegiance to the United States. Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee, described Omar as “anti-American”, while Brian Kilmeade of Fox News stated “you have to wonder if she’s an American first”. Fortunately, many have stood in solidarity with Omar, challenging Trump and his followers on Twitter using #IStandWithIlhan. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to Trump’s attack by stating that “Members of Congress have a duty to respond to the president’s explicit attack today. Ilhan Omar’s life is in danger.” Bernie Sanders decried the “disgusting and dangerous attacks” towards the congresswoman, whilst U.S. senators Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris accused the president of spreading hate.
Critics have claimed Trump’s video “went too far”, but, it’s not the tweets or videos that have gone too far, it’s his presidency. Given that George W. Bush once referred to the 9/11 attackers as “those folks who committed this act”, the only difference between Omar and Bush’s statements are that the bodies that voiced the comments look different. Bush is a white, American man, while Ilhan Omar is a black American, an immigrant, a Somalian refugee, a woman, and a Muslim. So, really, the socially constructed intersections of race, gender and nationality account for the only ‘difference’ in how these statements are understood, and how Americans respond to them. Trump’s xenophobic attack on Ilhan Omar reinforces racialised discourses used to discriminate against Muslims in western societies by portraying them as ‘others’. Trump’s remarks, in conjunction with the actions of those that favourited, retweeted or commented on the video, in addition to those who remained silent, are fuelling the rising Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric that permeates western societies.
Ilhan Omar’s statement in Trump’s video was removed from the original context, where she claimed: “Here’s the truth. For 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 recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.” Evidently, the intention of the statement was to differentiate terrorists from all Muslims, and to illustrate that post-9/11 American society has done very little to support the civic rights of Muslims. The Trump administration is refusing to listen to Omar’s original claim, alternatively using the statement in a politically driven endeavour to spread Islamophobic messages. Since Trump’s video went global on Twitter, Ilhan Omar has received personal death threats to her office, whilst the hate it represents also threatens the lives of every Muslim in the U.S.. The personal attack on Ilhan Omar is a violent attack on the entire Muslim population.
The Trump administration and its advocates are fuelling a politics of hate that needs to be met with solidarity against, and resistance to, the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric. Moustafa Bayoumi, a writer for The Guardian, has maintained that everyone should be listening to Ilhan Omar’s words and actions, as a powerful force in speaking out against all types of human rights violations. To date, the congresswoman has criticised Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen, condemned the Chinese repression of the Uighur population, and opposed American intervention in Venezuela. Clearly, the voice of Ilhan Omar is the voice of a congresswoman that the world needs to celebrate profoundly, rather than attack in the name of hate, terror, xenophobic politics and violent Islamophobia.
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