Speaking truth to power: the case of Ilhan Omar

by Habib Siddiqui | Published: 00:00, Mar 21,2019


US representative Ilhan Omar attends a youth climate rally on the west front of the US Capitol on March 15 in Washington, DC. — Agence France-Presse/Brendan Smialowski

TRUTH and justice have always been an anathema to the despots, around the world, who resort to torture and oppression to silence their adversaries. They are not oblivious of the truth but are averse to it being afraid of its impact which may weaken their control over the people. They like to conceal the truth.
In our time, thus, tens of thousands of those who dared to speak to power and demand justice have ended up either being killed or rotting in prison cells inside the authoritarian regimes such as China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Sadly, the record of the so-called liberal democracies of the west is not better. With a huge nuclear arsenal at their disposal to destroy our planet several times, some of these governments aspire for world domination by any means possible. They behave like the mafia. They are hostile to anyone challenging or questioning their ‘new world order’.
As I have noted elsewhere, something that has also been stated by numerous Jewish academics and conscientious human beings, the government of Israel and its powerful lobbies (especially the AIPAC and CUFI) have had a strong grip over American foreign policy for decades. The latter equate any criticism of the Zionist state as being anti-Jewish. And this equation is absurd.
The newly elected congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has been a fresh air in the Capitol Hill, raising legitimate questions about Israel, about America’s foreign policy toward Israel and about the Israeli lobby in the United States. Naturally, she is an eyesore to the powerful coteries, the neo-imperialists and hatemongers in the USA, especially the pro-Israeli ‘Amen Corner’, who have been screaming in rage ever since this hijab-clad Muslim-American woman of Somali background got elected to the US Congress.
Omar’s comment, ‘It’s all about the Benjamins baby’ was viewed as a reference to an anti-Semitic stereotype and condemned by members of both parties. ‘A black day for Israel’, tweeted POTUS Donald Trump. One congressman said, ‘Questioning support for the US-Israel relationship is unacceptable.’ Another said, ‘There are many reasons to support Israel, but there is no reason to oppose Israel.’ While still another said that Democrats and Republicans, alike, are committed to insuring that the ‘United States and Israel stand as one.’
Eleven Jewish groups, among them the National Council for Young Israel and the Endowment for Middle East Truth, sent a petition on March 4 to speaker Nancy Pelosi, the senior house Democrat, asking that she ‘immediately remove’ Omar from the house foreign affairs committee. A copy of the petition, which was also sent to Democrat representative Eliot Engel, who chairs the committee, was published by the Washington Free Beacon. Engel, an unabashed supporter of Israel, asked Omar to apologise.
The congresswoman was also accused of anti-Semitism for a phrase taken out of context from a town hall discussion in Washington, DC What she actually said was, ‘I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. And I want to ask, why is it ok for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby… that is influencing policy?’
She also faced accusations for tweets published on March 3 saying, ‘I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks… I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest.’
What Omar said are all correct and true. If such true statements are wrongly labelled as anti-Semitic, she must be an Islamophobe, too. After all, she has been critical of the Saudi kingdom, its war crimes in Yemen and its gruesome record of violations of human rights. In October 2018, she tweeted: ‘The Saudi government might have been strategic at covering up the daily atrocities carried out against minorities, women, activists and even #YemenGenocide, but the murder of #JamalKashoggi should be the last evil act they are allowed to commit. #BDSSaudi#murderedjournalist (Posted 9:01pm, October 15, 2018).
Crown prince MBS and the pro-Saudi/Emirati media fumed, but we never heard of any complaint here in the USA that Omar was an Islamophobe for speaking her mind. Ilhan Omar is not shy of speaking truth to power. Lately, she condemned former president Obama for his less-than-satisfactory performance. She cited the ‘caging of kids’ at the Mexican border and the ‘droning of countries around the world’ on Obama’s watch — and argued that he wasn’t much different from president Trump.
‘We can’t be only upset with Trump’, the freshman firebrand told Politico Magazine. ‘His policies are bad, but many of the people who came before him also had really bad policies. They just were more polished than he was’, Omar said. ‘And that’s not what we should be looking for any more. We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because they are polished. We want to recognise the actual policies that are behind the pretty face and the smile.’
What Omar said are unfiltered truth and nothing else whether or not the governments in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA and their supporters, lobbies and propaganda media like such statements.
Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) are falsely accused of being anti-Semitic simply because they dare to speak truth to power, let alone being women, non-White and Muslims. When Omar apologised for saying that her ‘intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole’ the Republicans, including president Donald Trump, were not satisfied. Such reactions from politicians who bank on racism and bigotry to get elected is simply mindboggling!
Omar fired back at the president on Twitter saying, ‘You have trafficked in hate your whole life — against Jews, Muslims, indigenous [peoples], immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you?’
Trump’s reaction to the terrorism in New Zealand on March 15 that witnessed the murder of 50 Muslims and injury of another 50 worshippers in two mosques once again shows that he has no intention to learn. He refuses to distance himself from the most loyal group of his supporters, the white supremacists, who adore and support him. He has been cited by the Australian terrorist as an ‘inspiration’ to the white race against the ‘invader’ Muslims and non-whites. Rather than uniting the country against hatred and intolerance against the minorities, like some fellow racists within his party, Trump remains more mindful of growing his support base amongst the white supremacists. Thus, we should not be surprised if we see a repeat of the Christchurch terrorism somewhere in the near future.
After all, since Trump announced his candidacy for the top job three years ago, Islamophobia along with anti-Semitism, virulent racism, extreme misogyny and xenophobia is on the rise. Trump praised the ‘fine people’ among the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi sympathisers who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017, chanting, ‘Jews will not replace us’, ‘White lives matter’, and ‘One people, one nation, end immigration.’ One of those ‘fine people’ used his car as a weapon to kill Heather Heyer and injure dozens more anti-racist protesters. Just over a year later, another white, racist killer, angered by the Jewish support for the refugees and immigrants whom president Trump has falsely branded as rapists and murderers, attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, murdering 11 Jewish worshippers and injuring at least six more.
Thanks to alternate media, most Americans are more informed these days than ever before of the gross crimes of the US government — past and present. Many of Omar’s supporters are American and Israeli Jews who are tired of Netanyahu’s murderous policy against the indigenous Palestinians. Veteran Israeli journalist Gideon Levy wrote, ‘Ilhan Omar is not only one of the first two female Muslim members of the House of Representatives, she may herald a dramatic change in that body…. Neither Hamas nor a black day, but a glimmer of hope on Capitol Hill. Maybe, for the first time in history, someone will dare tell the truth to the American people, absorbing scathing accusations of anti-Semitism, without bowing her head.’ He asked, ‘When will the world dare to distinguish between legitimate criticism of an illegitimate reality and anti-Semitism?’
Daring to speak truth to the enormous power of the Israeli lobby inside the USA and many parts of the western world is seen as a political hara-kiri. As a result, since the days of Paul Findley, no one within the US Congress had the audacity to question America’s unwavering support for an apartheid state that has been guilty of a plethora of crimes against the indigenous Palestinian people. The Capitol Hill has been turned into an ‘Amen Corner’. Predictably, our elected representatives like to conceal the ugly truth about Israel’s monumental crimes in the Occupied Territories. They are unmindful of the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry report on the 2018 Gaza protest that faulted Israel over the deadly repression of the demonstrations in the Gaza strip in 2018. They won’t debate such matters that affect our moral standing around the globe!
By the way, Ilhan Omar is not the only one who is falsely accused of being anti-Semitic. Such accusations are far more likely to be lobbed against people of color, especially Black and Arab intellectuals, as we’ve recently seen with Marc Lamont Hill, who was fired by CNN following complaints about his Palestinian rights speech at the United Nations. Angela Davis was awarded the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s prestigious Fred L Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award in her hometown only to have the award revoked because of her support for Palestinian rights (In response to massive public pressure, the institute offered to renew the offer, but Davis instead chose to participate in a public event that included solidarity with Palestine). Michelle Alexander, whose extraordinary New York Times column rooted support for Palestinian rights squarely in the legacy of Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, faced charges of ‘sneaky anti-Semitism.’
As the foregoing discussion shows, speaking truth to power is and can often be hazardous. The daring few are bound to face isolation, reprimand, loss of earnings, and may even face death.
Thanks to the leaders like Trump, Modi, Netanyahu, Xi Jinping, Suu Kyi, MBS and many others, our world is going through a major crisis where hatred and intolerance against minorities are becoming the new norms. Conscientious people around the globe have a moral imperative to throttle such evils by saying and doing things that are morally right and just, no matter how unsurmountable the pressure is to keep mum and do nothing.
Intolerance has no place in our time and space. Let’s be reminded here by the instruction of Ali (RA) to Malik al-Ashtar, his newly appointed governor to Egypt: ‘Remember that the citizens of the state are of two categories. They are either your brethren in religion or your brethren in kind (ie, one like you in creation).’ (For citation, see this author’s book: Wisdom of Mankind: A collection of voices of Muslims from the earliest moments to the last century.)
Let’s all work towards a peaceful world without intolerance of any kind.

Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace
and rights activist.

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