When tweets become threats

Khaled Dawoud , Thursday 18 Apr 2019

One of the first ever Muslim members of Congress charges that a tweet by President Trump led to an increase in threats to her life

Ilhan Omar
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., April 10, 2019 (Photo: Reuters)

After blasting her for criticising the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on US foreign policy, going as far as dubbing her anti-Semitic, Minnesota’s Representative Ilhan Omar has come under heavy fire again, led by US President Donald Trump, because of statements she made on the need to confront stereotyping American Muslims after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, which claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 Americans.

Omar, the first ever veiled member of the US House of Representatives, said a tweet by Trump Friday led to a sharp increase in death threats she has been getting since she joined the House at the beginning of this year. She charged that the threats were sparked by “violent rhetoric”, accusing Trump of stoking right-wing extremism. “It has to stop,” she added.

Fears expressed by Omar came after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced a new “security assessment to safeguard” the fresh lawmaker who came to the US from Somalia with her parents as a refugee.

Trump’s tweet Friday showed Omar talking to America’s largest American-Muslim lobbying group, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, about the 11 September attacks. He wrote, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET” alongside a 43-second edited video showing footage of the 11 September terrorist attacks, spliced with a speech by Omar.

“Some people did something,” she is seen saying, in between footage of planes hitting the World Trade Centre towers, damage to the Pentagon and people fleeing buildings.

On Monday, Trump stepped up his attacks against Omar, calling her “out of control”. He also said Pelosi “should look at the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful US HATE statements Omar has made” before defending her.

Congresswoman Omar has become a lightning rod for criticism following her 2018 election. Democrats claimed the video does not provide context to Omar’s 20-minute speech to CAIR on 23 March.

She was discussing civil rights for Muslim Americans in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. CAIR, she said, was founded “because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Republican critics said that her comment “some people did something” was offensive to the Americans killed in the attacks.

In a statement Sunday, Omar said: “Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life — many directly referring or replying to the president’s video.” She thanked security officials for “their attention to these threats” and accused Trump of fuelling a rise in “violent crimes and other acts of hate by right-wing extremists and white nationalists”.

She also expressed concern that Trump’s visit to her home state of Minnesota Monday could lead to an increase in hate crimes and assaults. “Violent rhetoric and all forms of hate speech have no place in our society, much less from our country’s commander-in-chief. We are all Americans. This is endangering lives. It has to stop,” she said.

Earlier this month a man was charged with threatening to kill Omar over her Muslim faith.

In his State of the Union address, Trump said he would save America from socialism. Analysts believe that Trump’s escalation against Omar was part of his attempt to portray Democrats as a party that has fallen under the control of “radical” leaders who have become ever more vocal on the environment, Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and violations of human rights and raising taxes.

Thus, attacking Omar, Pelosi and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is a way, in Trump’s strategy, to peel away “moderate” Democrats and independents.

On Sunday, White House Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders claimed Trump wishes “no ill will and certainly not violence” towards the first-term lawmaker Omar.

Referring to her previous controversial comments, in which Omar questioned US blind support for Israel, Sarah Sanders added: “It’s absolutely abhorrent the comments that she continues to make and has made and they look the other way,” referring to the Democratic party’s leadership.

The Friday tweet, which had been posted to the top of Trump’s Twitter feed Sunday, was removed after Pelosi made the request to the White House, but is still viewable on his feed. “The president’s words weigh a ton, and his hateful and inflammatory rhetoric creates real danger,” Pelosi said in a statement while travelling in London.

“President Trump must take down his disrespectful and dangerous video,” the House Speaker added, saying that security officials were reviewing Omar’s protection protocol and “will continue to monitor and address the threats she faces”. 

*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 April, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly under the headline: When tweets become threats


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