One of the most inspiring anecdotes of the blue tsunami of 2018 was the large number of women of color elected to Congress. Much of the attention and the hackles have been focused on their de facto leader, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York–the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.
But she isn’t the only history-maker in this group. Among the many other history-makers in this freshman class is Ilhan Omar, who represents Minneapolis and the surrounding area. She is one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress, the other being fellow freshman Rashida Tlaib of west Detroit. She is also the first Muslim refugee to serve in Congress; she initially claimed to be the first refugee of any sort, but at least five other former refugees have served before her.
Omar wears her pioneering role proudly–something that doesn’t sit well with a lot of right-wingers. Among them is conservative black pastor E. W. Jackson, one of the loudest and most obnoxious members of a very exclusive club–blacks who are still all-in for Donald Trump. To Jackson’s mind, Omar is only in Congress because she wasn’t really voted in by Americans.
It’s not the first time that Jackson has fired off a cheap shot at Omar. In December, Jackson hit the ceiling when he learned the new Democratic majority was going to allow members to wear head coverings for religious reasons. The rule was tailored in part for Omar, who wears a headscarf.
To Jackson, the morning drive-time host on Urban Family Talk–a division of American Family Radio tailored to black conservatives–this was a sign that the republic was about to fall. People for the American Way’s Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Jackson thought that the floor of the new House was going to “look like an Islamic republic” and “an institution of Sharia law.” He had a message for Omar and any other headscarf-wearing women with designs on holding elected office–if they weren’t willing to accept that this is a Christian nation, “go live somewhere else.”
When Omar saw this, she posterized Jackson on Twitter.
Jackson tried a double-pronged response. First, on a blog post at Urban Family Talk, he accused Omar of “playing the Muslim victim” in an effort to make Americans forget that Islamists wreaked havoc on 9-11. He also rapped her for how she felt confronted with her “otherness” when she arrived in this country in 1995–suggesting that she was “a perfect ingrate.”
Um, E. W.? Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, Omar feels shame and disgust at how Osama bin Laden and his thugs gave Islam a bad name with their rampages around the world? It’s no different from an Italian feeling shame and disgust at the Mafia. And do you seriously expect a refugee to ignore that most of the people around her don’t look like her?
But Jackson wasn’t done. On the Friday edition of his show, he uncorked his lowest blow yet–the people who elected Omar aren’t really Americans at all. Right Wing Watch got a clip.
Jackson said–with a straight face–that Omar’s historic win was possible because “she wasn’t really elected by Americans.” He claimed that Omar doesn’t owe her seat to mingling with people of “all kinds of backgrounds, descents, economic status,” but because she stayed in “the cocoon of a Somali community that set itself up in the Minneapolis area.” Just in case he didn’t make himself clear, he declared, “Islam doesn’t assimilate, Islam infiltrates.”
This isn’t just a dog whistle, folks. This is a full-blown siren. Jackson is effectively saying that Omar was elected because of people who are “not us.” Perhaps Jackson ought to take a good, long look at the demographics of Omar’s district. It’s over 67 percent white and just 18 percent black. And before being elected to Congress, she served one term in the Minnesota state house, representing a district in northeast Minneapolis that is 62.6 percent white. Hmmm–not exactly areas where a Somali refugee can get anywhere by staying in a “cocoon.”
So is Jackson saying that the people who elected Omar to the state house and to Congress aren’t really Americans? It sure sounds like it. If so, it wouldn’t be entirely surprising. After all, there is a certain element in the GOP that doesn’t think Democratic majorities are legitimate.
And if Jackson is trying to paint Omar as a closet Islamist and jihadist, he may want to take a look at her Twitter feed. She was loudly championing the cause of Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, who fled Saudi Arabia after enduring horrific domestic abuse. Al-Qunun took refuge in Thailand, and feared for her safety if she were bundled back to Saudi Arabia. When she was allowed to stay in Thailand, Omar joined the celebration.
Not exactly something you’d expect to see from a woman who believes in Sharia law.
The most benign interpretation for these unhinged screeds from Jackson is that he’s trying to get his licks in–much like a good chunk of the right is literally looking for ways to get in cheap shots at Ocasio-Cortez. After all, Omar, like Ocasio-Cortez, is likely to grow old in her seat. Omar’s district has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+26, making it the most Democratic district in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest.
But if this is the best he can do, he’s going to have to try harder. All he’s doing is making himself look foolish–and Omar look more empowered.
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