WASHINGTON (Middle East Eye) – President Donald Trump has unearthed long-standing racism and bigotry that some people have otherwise tried to whitewash out of U.S. history, American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has said.
Speaking to Middle East Eye, Omar said Trump has "unearthed a lot of the ills - that we have decided to not speak about in our society - in the ugliest way”.
Omar, who has come under attack from Trump himself, as well as by right-wing media organizations including Fox News and conservative commentators like Megan McCain, added that there had been an attempt to erase the deep-seated history of racism in the United States by merely associating it with the Trump era.
"I think we have to be very consistent in calling [this] out regardless of whether it makes people uncomfortable or not," she said in a telephone interview.
"Because that discomfort will lead us to the kind of changes we want to see. And I think, ultimately, it will lead us to have the kind of America we all deserve," said Omar, a former refugee from Somalia, and one of just two Muslim women ever elected to the U.S. Congress.
Since being elected to Congress in late 2018, Omar has been a frequent target for attacks by Republicans and by right-wing media platforms.
The campaign against her began following a series of tweets that spoke to the use of lobby money in the U.S. support for Israel. She was immediately accused of antisemitism. Omar later apologized for the comments that were seen by some as invoking an antisemitic trope.
Later, following comments about the 11 September 2001 attacks at a gala hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), she was described as trivializing 9/11 and accused of being anti-American.
This culminated in Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post publishing a front page that showed a photo of the World Trade Center in flames together with a partial quote attributed to Omar. The newspaper added the text: "Here’s your something. 2,977 people dead by terrorism" over the photo.
In response, thousands of Yemeni-American bodegas in New York City launched a boycott of the newspaper, arguing they would not sell a newspaper that incited hate against Muslim-Americans.
"This is a triggering moment in our history as American Muslims, as New Yorkers who saw and felt how deeply wounded our city was and felt the backlash and discrimination that we as a community felt… it was devastating for people. And this is why our members feel that we cannot allow this and so we decided to boycott," Debbie Almontaser, co-founder of the Yemeni Association of Merchants (YAMA), told Middle East Eye.
Trump went one step further, tweeting a video montage of 9/11 interspersed with Omar’s words. The video prompted widespread outrage.
Though White House spokesperson, Sarah Sanders, said the president had wished no ill will, Omar said that his tweet had increased the number of threats to her life.
Supporters of Omar have repeatedly argued that Omar has been attacked because of her identity as a black Muslim woman who dares to speak her mind in the corridors of power.
Omar, for her part, is not willing to back down.
"I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans," she said.
Though Omar has been repeatedly smeared by Republicans, she has also been let down by the Democratic Party, who have been slow to come to her defense.
Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist based in New York, told MEE that the American Muslim community would not allow anyone to vilify their leaders.
"She is Somali-Black-Muslim, wears hijab, anti-war, [a] critic of the state of Israel, unapologetic, pro-immigrant, eloquent and fearless. She is everything I have dreamed about in a leader.”