African-American women leaders gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday May 2 in defense of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim congresswomen in history and the first member of Congress to wear a hijab.
Omar, an extraordinary success story, a young girl who came from Somalia at age 12 and who now repesents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional district, has been the target of numerous right-wing attacks since taking office, including by President Donald Trump himself. Omar says death threats against her have spiked in number since President Trump tweeted a video juxtaposing her image with footage of the 9/11 attacks.
Omar speaks (abridged)
Here’s the thing that really offends a lot of people and the reason that we are here. I was born—I was born as a very liberated human being, to a country that was colonized, that recognized that they can colonize the land but they can’t colonize your mind, to people who recognized that all of us deserve dignity and that no human being was ever, ever going to tell you that you are less than them.
Thirteen people organized for our independence in Somalia. So I was born in that breath of recognizing that they might be more powerful than you are, that they might have more technology than you have, they might think that they are wiser than you, they might control all of the institutions, but they control your mind, and that is what sets you free.
So, a sister of mine on TV said the thing that upsets the occupant of the White House, his goons in the Republican Party, many of our colleagues in the Democratic Party, is that—is that they can’t stand—they cannot stand that a refugee, a black woman, an immigrant, a Muslim, shows up in Congress thinking she’s equal to them.
But I say to them, “How else did you expect me to show up?”So here is the reality. I tell people every single day, I have a certificate that everyone else has hanged in their offices in Congress, the same exact certificate of election. But I got more people who voted for me and sent me here than 428 of them. So, when they say, “Who does she think she is?”—when they say, “Who does she think she is?” I am the one that the people sent to be a voice for them. So we have to always recognize that one marginalized voice represents many marginalized voices.
But I don’t only represent one marginalized voice, because in this country being black is enough of being marginalized. But I also happen to be a woman. That’s a second marginalization. I happen to be a Muslim. And I also, also happen to be a refugee and an immigrant, from what they call one of the “shithole countries.” The reality is, that “shithole country” raised a very proud, dignified person. Our circumstances might not always be perfect, but that doesn’t lessen our humanity. And I am not in the business of defending mine.
So, when this—when this occupant of the White House chooses to attack me,—we know that that attack isn’t for Ilhan. That attack is the continuation of the attacks that he’s leveled against women, against people of color, against immigrants, against refugees, and certainly against Muslims. And we are collectively saying—we are collectively saying, “Your vile attacks, your demented views are not welcome here. This is not—this is not going to be the country of the xenophobics. This is not going to be the country of white people. This is not going to be the country of the few. This is the country of the many. This is a country that was founded—this is the country that was founded on the history of Native American genocide, on the backs of black slaves, but also by immigrants.” And so, as much as we need to remedy the history that we continue to neglect, we also must recognize that every, every liberty that we enjoy here, every single progress we get to celebrate, came about because immigrants participated in it.
So, I know my place in this society. All of you know your place in this society. And it’s one that is equal to every single person that walks in it.
But my sisters and I also know our place in Congress. We know that we each represent 780,000 constituents, just like everyone else does. We know that the fight for liberation doesn’t only stay in the walls of this country, but it’s one that’s connected to every single community around the world, because when Palestinians are struggling with occupation and their dehumanization isn’t being talked about, that is on us to uplift them. When we hear the voices and the struggles of Venezuelans, we say, “Leave their sovereignty alone. Let them fight for their own liberation,” because we know— that our liberations are collective, that my freedom isn’t worthy of much if my sisters and brothers aren’t free, and my joy isn’t much if everyone else isn’t living a joyous life. A prosperity for me should never come in the expense of prosperity for everyone, that there is no way that I lose sleep over the safety of my children if I can’t lose sleep over the safety of everyone else’s children.
And at this moment, the occupant of the White House, as my sister Ayanna likes to call him, and his allies are doing everything that they can to distance themselves and misinform the public from the monsters that they created, that is terrorizing the Jewish community and the Muslim community, because when we are talking about anti-Semitism, we must also talk about Islamophobia. It’s two sides of the same coin of bigotry.