Democrats slam Trump's attack on Muslim lawmaker Ilhan Omar

Ms Ilhan Omar has been the target of conservative criticism after comments she made about the Sept 11, 2001, attacks last month.
Ms Ilhan Omar has been the target of conservative criticism after comments she made about the Sept 11, 2001, attacks last month.PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

They accuse him of Islamophobia, inciting violence and politicising 9/11 terrorist attack

WASHINGTON • In the 24 hours since United States President Donald Trump escalated an attack on Representative Ilhan Omar by tweeting a video of her spliced with footage of the burning Twin Towers, Democrats have accused him of Islamophobia, inciting violence and politicising one of America's gravest tragedies.

The swift condemnation started on Friday afternoon, after Mr Trump shared the video with his millions of followers, along with the caption "We Will Never Forget".

Ms Omar, a Somali refugee who made history as one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress last year, has been the target of conservative criticism this past week after right-wing media outlets began sharing comments she made about the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to a largely Muslim audience last month.

At a Council on American-Islamic Relations (Cair) event, Ms Omar spoke about the discrimination American Muslims faced after the attacks. "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," she said.

"Cair was founded after 9/11," she went on, "because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.

"So you can't just say that today someone is looking at me strange and that I am trying to make myself look pleasant. You have to say that, 'This person is looking at me strange. I am not comfortable with it, and I am going to talk to them and ask them why.' Because that is the right you have."

Cair was actually founded in 1994.

Conservatives began circulating a snippet of the 20-minute speech, highlighting the phrase "some people did something" to suggest Ms Omar had played down the significance of 9/11.

As the clip spread, several Republicans questioned Ms Omar's patriotism and loyalty.

Things got uglier last Thursday when the New York Post ran a photo of the burning twin towers on its cover with the headline "Rep Ilhan Omar: 9/11 Was 'Some People Did Something'."

Beneath that, in large bold letters, it said: "Here's your something."


A day later, Mr Trump weighed in with his tweet.

Democrats responded swiftly, defending Ms Omar and accusing the President of fomenting violence.

"Members of Congress have a duty to respond to the President's explicit attack today," Ms Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted hours after Mr Trump's missive.

"@IlhanMN's life is in danger. For our colleagues to be silent is to be complicit in the outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress. We must speak out."

Senator Elizabeth Warren responded forcefully as well: "The President is inciting violence against a sitting congresswoman - and an entire group of Americans based on their religion," she tweeted.

"It's disgusting. It's shameful," she went on.

"And any elected leader who refuses to condemn it shares responsibility for it."

It was not the first time Mr Trump invoked 9/11 for personal or political gain. On the day the towers fell, he mused on a radio show that he now had the tallest building in downtown Manhattan.

And in his race to be president, he declared that "Islam hates us".

Mr Trump also formally proposed banning all Muslims from entering the US during the presidential campaign. His administration has implemented policies barring citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries from travelling to the US.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not mention Ms Omar specifically in her comments. Instead, she focused on the President's politicising of the terrorist attacks.

"The memory of 9/11 is sacred ground, and any discussion of it must be done with reverence. The President shouldn't use the painful images of 9/11 for a political attack," she said in a statement.

Ms Rashida Tlaib, the other Muslim woman in Congress, seemed to agree with a tweet criticising Mrs Pelosi's statement for not referencing Ms Omar by name.

"They put us in photos when they want to show our party is diverse. However, when we ask to be at the table, or speak up about issues that impact who we are, what we fight for and why we ran in the first place, we are ignored," she said.

"To truly honour our diversity is to never silence us."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2019, with the headline 'Democrats slam Trump's attack on Muslim lawmaker'. Print Edition | Subscribe