The other Ilhan Omar and her politics of ‘radical love’

The right wing in the US have been on a campaign against first-term Minnesota Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, implying strongly that she is some sort of radical Muslim terrorist sympathizing anti-Semite while stopping short of actually saying so. In a profile of her in the December 2019/January 2020 issue of The Progressive magazine, John Nichols writes that the attacks based on this distorted one-dimensional portrait of her obscures the fact that Omar has a very wide range of issues that she is interested in.

She is an immigrant, and a refugee. She is a Somali American woman who proudly identifies as an intersectional feminist. Her criticisms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians have drawn a great deal of attention, including bipartisan rebukes. Yet little note has been made of the fact that this Muslim Congresswoman has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of human rights abuses in a number of predominantly Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Sudan. Even less noticed has been her focus on poverty and injustice in Central America, and her ardent advocacy on behalf of women’s rights and LGBTQ rights in places like Brunei.

One year into her first term, Omar has adopted a global brief that has drawn vile attacks from the President of the United States and admonishment from Congressional Republicans, as well as a number of Democrats. She has faced immense pressure to fit into the neat categories where political and media elites consign new members of Congress, yet Omar refuses to conform. She is well aware that she is new to Capitol Hill, but Omar is not prepared to wait her turn.

Rather, she is stepping up to express a deep, sometimes aching, often controversial concern for human rights, human development, climate justice, diplomacy, and peacemaking projects that might usher in an age of peace and shared prosperity. Her vision is of a “radical love” that extends beyond borders, and she maintains an even more radical faith in the willingness of Americans to think globally.

Even those who do not always agree with Omar recognize the Congresswoman as a uniquely engaged commentator on imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, racism, and the danger of viewing global debates only within a domestic framework—issues that rarely get addressed in Congress. Her colleague in “The Squad” of new House members, New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, describes her as “one of the most effective voices right now at cutting through the authoritarian foreign policy tendencies of this administration.”

Despite her frequent forays into contentious debates, Omar is exceptionally easygoing and good-humored. She jokes about her fishing skills and her love of country music. Yet she has thought a great deal about her experience as a refugee who was forced to flee her home and as an immigrant who encountered racism and xenophobia after her arrival in the United States.

Ilhan Omar learned long ago to dismiss the haters and focus on the work that must be done, and she is confident in her ability to succeed where other House members have failed in reframing debates about Israel and Palestine, authoritarianism, and militarism.

A long overdue and necessary corrective to the demonizing narrative that the right wing and their media allies have been propagating.


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