Notes From the Margins…

The Gangster-in-Chief versus Ilhan Omar

  • April 13, 2019
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I have to admit I was wrong about Donald Trump.  Before he was elected I recognised that he was a danger to his country and to the world, and that he also posed a direct threat to migrants and minorities in the United States.  It was clear even during his campaign that  Trump was a moral and political degenerate, devoid of any decency or scruple, who represented the American kleptocracy at its basest.  It was obvious that he was consciously summoning the darkest forces in American society onto the historical stage and weaponising hatred to propel himself to power in a way that no previous president had done before him.

You would have to be blind not to notice these things.   Nevertheless I still thought that the American system had enough checks and balances to neutralise his worst excesses, and I so hoped that his own cluelessness, arrogance, greed and impetuous bellicosity would undermine him and even bring him down.

I didn’t realise how far Trump was willing to go in order to please his political base, while he and his family used the presidential office as a vehicle for enriching themselves still further. I didn’t foresee how relentless, fanatical and devoid of even the semblance of scruple he would be, and how much he would be able to get away with.

I didn’t understand then how much of a grip the radical right had attained over the Republican Party and the American media, and how beholden Trump was to these sectors.

I certainly didn’t imagine that a sitting president would publicly set up a Muslim member of Congress for assassination.  But this is effectively what Trump did yesterday in the case of the Somali-American Democrat representative Ilhan Omar.  To understand the context we need to go back a little.

Many readers will know that Ilhan Omar is of the first two Muslim women to be elected to the US Congress, that she was born in Somalia, that she is leftist, and a strong critic of US foreign policy and of Israel.

All these qualities have made her a natural hate-figure for Trump’s base and for the media networks that feed that hatred.   On 9 March the former judge Jeannine Pirro- one of the most fanatically anti-Muslim presenters on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News – questioned Omar’s patriotism and accused her of antisemitism, in a monologue that included the following observation:

Think about this, she’s not getting this anti-Israel sentiment doctrine from the Democratic Party, so if it’s not rooted in the party, where is she getting it from? Think about it. Omar wears a hijab which according to the Quran 33:59 tells women to cover so they won’t get molested. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution

Many of Fox’s viewers need little encouragement to know what they think about a Muslim-American woman who used to be a refugee with strong (leftist) political views, and  many would have understood the meaning of these words: that Omar was a Muslim who obeys ‘Sharia law’ rather than the laws of her own country.

Omar has already received numerous death threats, including a phone call to her office two weeks ago which asked one of Omar’s aides

Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood?  Why are you working for her? She’s a fucking terrorist. I’ll put a bullet in her fucking skull.

 

Whether Pirro’s rant had anything to do with this reference to the Muslim Brotherhood is not clear, but even before this incident Fox News had given her a mild slap on them wrist by  taking her off air temporarily.

Pirro loves Trump however, and he loves her.  In a series of tweets he called for her reinstatement and published a thread which declared:

Bring back [Judge Jeanine.] The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country. They have all out campaigns against Fox News hosts who are doing too well. must stay strong and fight back with vigor. Stop working soooo hard on being politically correct, which will only bring you down, and continue to fight for our Country.

In any other president this would be an unusual intervention, but in the current dystopia there is nothing outlandish about it.  Since then things have got worse.  At the beginning of this week Representative Omar told a Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) meeting

 for far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second class citizen, and frankly I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it.  CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose our civil liberties.

 

 

This observation was not entirely correct.  CAIR was not founded in response to 9/11 but in 1994.   Nevertheless Omar’s depiction of the broader consequences of the 9/11 attacks for American Muslims will have resonated with many Muslims both inside and outside the United States, who found themselves under suspicion as a result of the atrocities, and Omar’s words were intended to inspire them to become less apologetic and access the rights that the American constitution grants them.

All of this was obscured in the backlash that followed, which focused almost entirely on the single phrase  ‘some people did something’ [on 9/11],  to indict Omar as a terrorist apologist and an unpatriotic Muslim who minimised American suffering.  Republican congressman Dan Crenshaw and Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel both shared the clip, which McDaniel used to call Omar ‘anti-American.’

Omar’s reference to the September 11 attacks was not well-expressed, and a politician subject to persistent hostile scrutiny should certainly have chosen her words more carefully.  But there is nothing in her speech to suggest the meaning given to them by her critics, such as Murdoch’s New York Post:

 

 

On the internet the response was more extreme.    McDaniel’s followers variously called for Omar to be ‘incinerated’, ‘eliminated with extreme prejudice’, sent to Guantanamo, or deported. On Instagram the far-right activist and former reporter for Rebel Media Laura Loomer called Islam a ‘cancer’ and told her followers that Muslims seeking public office should be criminalised.

And yesterday Trump joined this pitchfork mob, by posting this disgraceful tweet with a video showing Omar’s words played repeatedly:

So here is the president of the United States,  fueling the hate chorus of his favourite news networks, and using 9/11 to designate a Somali-American Muslim woman as unpatriotic and un-American, at a time when white supremacist violence and hate crimes have reached new heights, and when Omar has already become a prime target.

So no, I simply did not see this coming.  I did not believe that even Trump would sink this low.  And now that he has, I hope that American society pushes back hard against what is little more than incitement.

And I hope that Congresswoman Omar stays safe,  and that she receives the protection that she clearly needs.

But if anything does happen to her, the man who calls himself president will bear some of the responsibility for it.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Nigel Baldwin

    14th Apr 2019 - 12:05 am

    Mr Trump, as I see it, is dangerously near going down the road trodden before him by Henry II (1154 – 1189), who in a drunken rage, incited four knights to murder the Archbishop of Canterbury in December 1170:

    “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?”

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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