Saturday April 13, 2019
By Eli Rosenberg
President Trump on Friday tweeted a video attacking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for the way she phrased a reference to 9/11, adding fuel to a controversy that has swelled in Republican political circles this week.
The video showed snippets of comments Omar made last month at a banquet for a Muslim civil rights organization interspersed with footage of the twin towers burning.
“WE WILL NEVER FORGET!” Trump tweeted, along with the video.
On Thursday, the New York Post had helped set the tone by publishing a front page that showed her comments over a similar image.
The remarks in question came in March, as Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, spoke about Islamophobia at an event held by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties group. The white-supremacist shooting that left 50 Muslim worshipers dead at two mosques in New Zealand had occurred the week before.
“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, in the middle of a roughly 20-minute long speech. “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized 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.”
The speech had drawn a protest outside at the time and even news coverage from conservative-leaning outlets such as the Washington Times, which noted that she told fellow Muslims to “raise hell,” and “make people uncomfortable,” as they sought to defend their rights.
But this week conservatives began to fixate on a different portion of the speech, after CAIR posted a video on Tuesday: the four words she used to refer to 9/11, as “some people did something.”
The comments were the focus of harsh broadsides from people like Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, Donald Trump Jr., and “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade, who questioned whether Omar, a Somali refuge, was “an American first.”
And after the New York Post put it on such an incendiary cover, some liberals began to speak up against it, saying they felt it was an incitement to violence against Omar, who has been the target of threats and overt Islamophobia.
“Such an ungenerous interpretation of her remarks is only possible if one is inclined to believe that Omar sympathizes more with terrorists than her murdered countrymen,” Zak Cheney-Rice at New York magazine wrote. “That she spoke them in the course of decrying Islamophobia makes it especially disconcerting that her political opponents would decontextualize them to fan the flames — she receives regular death threats on the basis of her faith, including from one New York man who threatened recently to ‘put a bullet in her . . . skull.’”
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) called for more Democrats to speak out to defend her this week.
“Members of Congress have a duty to respond to the President’s explicit attack today,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “@IlhanMN’s life is in danger.”
Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tweeted that Omar is “a leader with strength and courage.”
“She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we,” he wrote. “The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end.”
Trump has long wielded 9/11 as a political weapon. In the early part of his presidential campaign, he spread a falsehood that “thousands,” of people in New Jersey — where there is a “heavy Arab population,” he said — he celebrated as the twin towers came crashing down.
During a primary debate in 2016, he went after rivals like Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) over George W. Bush’s failure to prevent 9/11.
“The World Trade Center came down during your brother’s reign. Remember that,” Trump told Bush.
In 2010, Trump made a highly publicized offer to purchase a contentious site that an Egyptian business planned to build an Islamic community center on near Ground Zero.