A highly charged debate has been going on in the United States for the last few days over the controversial comments made by a new Representative from the Democratic Party, Ilhan Omar. Omar was elected to the House of Representatives from Minnesota in November as a Democrat. She and her colleague in the House – another new Representative belonging to the Democratic Party – Rashida Tlaib, were among the first Muslim women representatives in the US Congress. They both – along with their extreme-Left newly elected Representative colleague, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, popularly called AOC – have courted controversies by their extreme views since then. While AOC has been called out for her impractical extreme Leftist demands on all issues, Omar and Tlaib have displayed a much darker side.
They have not only openly identified themselves with an unabashed dislike for Israel but have also consistently painted a picture of the victimhood of Islam in the US, besides abusing President Donald Trump. Tlaib on one occasion used extremely foul language when referring to the need of impeaching him. Both Omar and Tlaib – with Omar always flaunting her headscarf and even making a statement of religious values about it – have projected that Muslim women do not need saving from Islam by the outside world. Simultaneously, they champion hardcore radical Islamist values, seeking to project the Muslims as a whole as victims all over the world. They broke the US Congress tradition when instead of taking their oath over the US Constitution, they took it over the Quran instead.
This projection has built up a toxic and divisive narrative whose precipitation was reached when Omar made recent comments going beyond Jews and Israel and targeting the counter-terror operations that took place in the wake of 9/11, thereby leaving little doubt about her bigoted perspective.
Rep. Omar while giving a speech at a fundraiser last month organized by Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said during her speech, “Raise hell. Make people uncomfortable because here’s the truth. 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 recognized that some people did something, and all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
Not only was the statement a misrepresentation – since CAIR was founded in 1994 and has been accused of having ties with radical Muslim terrorist organizations, but it also brought into sharp focus her brand of Islam, couched in secularist language. Immediately after her speech went viral, there was a great backlash from white American people in general, some sections of the media as well as from Trump and the Republican Party. The Democrats themselves were hesitant to support Omar this time, except for some direct Leftist supporters like Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and, Representatives Tlaib and AOC.
In response to her comments, Trump put out a video on social media representing how starkly her words contrasted with the spectacle of sheer destruction as the terrorist planes struck the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001. The video, edited to portray the terrorist havoc alongside Omar’s rhetoric, ended up having such a powerful impact that the whole thing became a hotly debated national issue, with the level of death threats to Omar going up every day. To further capture the popular outrage, the New York post had the following as its cover page headlines on April 11th:
Combined with Trump’s posted video condemning Omar, the message was brought starkly and effectively before the people. Due to pressure from the Left wing media, intellectuals and members of their own party, leading veteran Democrats – such as Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, as well as the aspiring new ones who are less populist like Kamala Harris – who initially did not support Omar, were forced to later pay lip service to support her statements in the name of free speech and multiculturalism. Their calculation was that if they had not spoken in Omar’s defence, then Trump would have walked away with the cake. Thus, selfish utilitarianism and election obsession took precedence over national interest.
But even this support was not enough for sections of the Muslim population, so intense is the extent of their radicalization. A report in a leading digital portal warned that, “Muslim Voters Won’t Forget Which Democrats Had Ilhan Omar’s Back” going onto argue that Muslim voters vote in a clannish manner and together (much like in India, they vote strategically to keep the BJP out), and that this time, they are carefully noting which of the potential 2020 Democratic Presidential candidates lent support to Omar immediately and who all lent it later and after hesitation. Since about 400,000 Muslims came out to vote in New York in 2016 and 120,000 in Michigan and a record 100 Muslim candidates contested the 2018 midterms, termed as a ‘Muslim Blue Wave’, as compared to just a dozen in 2016, it is apparent that Muslims are consolidating in the US.
They may not be significant enough to have an impact on a national election, yet the danger lies in the permanent damage that representatives like Omar have already done to US politics and even foreign policy. This is what Trump and other Republicans are raising their voice against.
The staggering part is that Omar managed to raise $830,000 in the first quarter of her re-election campaign and will soon touch $1 million. Rashida Tlaib also managed to raise immense amount of funds, mostly from Islamic-Palestinian outfits operating in the US. Tlaib identifies personally with the Palestinian cause since she is of Palestinian descent herself, while Omar is a Somalia-born refugee Muslim, a country where 99% of the population follows conservative Islam.
Both the women are good friends with American Palestinian Muslim activist Linda Sarsour who, being associated with CAIR and Muslim Brotherhood, is always peddling anti-Israel and radical Islamist rhetoric and is detested even by some Arab countries. Linda Sarsour became a famous name since 2008 when Obama has become the President. Since then, she has regularly visited the White House and was even awarded the ‘Champion of Change’ award by Obama in 2012.
The three self-designated ‘Muslim sisters’ have been pursuing their subversive Islamist agenda by peddling talks of peace, feminism, and human rights. Sarsour and her Palestinian husband were placed under observation by the US Federal authorities due to their links with extremist elements in 2004 and her Arab American Association of New York was being investigated by New York Police for links to Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood during the same time. She called for jihad against Donald Trump in 2017 – later her sophisticated supporters come up in her defence saying that jihad should be interpreted in a deeper sense – and application of Sharia to the United States. All three ‘Muslim sisters’ have drawn inspiration from Obama.
Beyond Muslim Politics in the US: Disruption Echoes in the Arab World
Besides Trump, Arab countries like UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and their allies have unleashed a public campaign against Omar and Tlaib. Iran is mostly noncommittal. But none of the Muslim countries – Sunni or Shia – are excited about Muslim representatives like Omar. The reasons are basically related to the embrace of political Islam by these women and how political Islam has fostered terrorism in the form of populist outfits like Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS. Political Islam is most prominently espoused by the Sunni organization, Muslim Brotherhood, which has been outlawed by Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, but has roots elsewhere, and has many Muslim sympathizers in the United States. One of them is CAIR – the organization at whose fundraiser Omar had given her speech and which has been outlawed by UAE, since 2014, as a terrorist organization.
Muslim Brotherhood briefly formed government in Egypt after the 2011 Arab Spring by winning a mandate through popular elections under Mohammad Morsi. Later, Saudi Arabia and UAE, threatened by the political Islam of Muslim Brotherhood, deposed Morsi, persecuted Muslim Brotherhood members and installed the present-day Sisi’s government in Egypt.
Over the last few years, the relationship between radical political Islam and Gulf countries has worsened even further. Mohammad bin Salman’s denunciation of the same and of the criticism of the post-1979 revolution changes and the close ties that are being forged between Israel and some Arab countries has put all these countries at odds with the new Islamic movement that appears to be just beginning in the US and spreading like wildfire.
The US Congress that was constituted after the 2018 midterm elections, where a record number of Muslims also contested, is considered to be the most diverse, with a number of Muslims, Latin Americans and Hispanics elected. The number of Muslim candidates and potential representatives is projected to go up over the years, since Muslims have risen up in backlash under the leadership of Omar and Tlaib. They have also started participating more with Muslim civil society networks, which was not the case earlier.
This new Islamic assertion poses a threat to the existing order and relationships struck between the West and Muslim countries. Omar and Tlaib have already been officially accused by the Saudi Arabian embassy as being agents of Muslim Brotherhood and raising money from organizations sympathetic to the Brotherhood to engage in activities to destabilize the US Congress. The Democrats’ support to these black sheep has led to assertions within the Muslim world that Democrats are hand-in-glove with political Islam.
This is on the mark. Tlaib issues inflammatory statements on a daily basis. She has declared that she feels more Palestinian in the US Congress than anywhere else, has praised Palestinian acts of terrorism against Israel, threatened to go on a hunger strike against immigration policies of Trump and accused her own Democratic Party of using ‘minority members’ like herself simply as ‘token diversity’ without letting them have a real say. These blackmailing tactics have even borne fruit. The Democrats have been cowed down.
They recently appointed Omar to the House Foreign Affairs Committee which decides the foreign policy positions of the US Congress, despite the Republican opposition to such a bigoted person being on such an influential committee. Immediately after assuming her place, Omar vowed to cut off military deals and funding arrangements with Saudi Arabia and Israel, ostensibly because of their human rights abuses against the Muslims. She has also taken China to task for torturing and killing its Uighur Muslims.
These Muslim as well as newly elected ultra-Left* members regularly attend antiSemitic radical Muslim gatherings and address the audience there. Despite the fact that CAIR was labelled a terrorist outfit by UAE in 2014, Tlaib and Omar draw heavy money and support from it. Omar even called, openly, for the release from jail of a Muslim Brotherhood senior member, currently under arrest in Egypt. It is no wonder they have begun to have such high appeal to Muslim voice in the US.
The impact has been such that the Democratic Party is turning leftwing and proIslamic in its quest to survive the Trump era – anything to dislodge Trump and fulfill their ambitions, even if it means self-destruction and national destruction. Party veterans like Pelosi – after some sophisticated resistance – have surrendered and have been unsuccessful in stemming the slide. For now, Pelosi has taken to denying that Omar and Tlaib ever said anything anti-Semitic, but their words speak for themselves and the two Muslim representatives have been unrepentant and very clear in what they say and who they associate with. Very soon, these Democratic denials will turn to indifference towards the Jewish lobby. The party, which used to be the haven and one of the most powerful supporters of American Jews and of Israel, is changing from within. It is beginning to see Jewish desertions.
What This Bodes for the New Type of Islam
These developments have triggered a debate since they expose the divisions within the wider Islamic world, and not the typical Shia-Sunni divisions, but within the Sunni fold itself. Due to their sophisticated language, position in the US Congress and talks of feminism, climate change, secularism and democracy, many people have been misled by the impression that they are actually promoting democracy in Islam – a factual impossibility, since Islam is not only at all amenable to democracy, but also clearly preaches that non-Muslims should cease to exist. These women do not come across as champions of democracy. Instead, they use the language of women’s rights and free speech only to further Muslim identity and radicalization.
Typically, due to their radical Islamic rhetoric, these women should have received ready support from Muslim countries since they further their Islamic agenda. But inter-Muslim political rivalries have prevented this outcome. The present condition is such that Muslim countries are political dictatorships first and Islamic countries second. They use radical Islam as an expedient and do not hesitate to kill even the most avid followers of Islam if they seem to interfere in their quest for power. This explains their budding relationship with Israel, support for India’s Modi and traditionally excellent relations with the West.
The hatred for each other and ambition for power is such that many a time Islamic fanaticism has taken a backseat and this expedient approach has mercifully maintained some kind of a balance of power and prevented outright global jihad. It was instrumental in the success of the two independent mutually antagonistic coalitions – West-Saudi Arabia-UAE on one side and Iran-Russia-Turkey-Syria on the other side, with ISIS as a common enemy – between Islamic countries and the Atlantic countries in finishing off the Islamic State (ISIS). Thus, despite the inherent fanaticism preached by Islam, the culmination of a successful Muslim fraternity has failed on a global scale.
The rise of people like Omar and Tlaib disrupts such a balance. They represent, not any liberal or democratic assertion, but the next level of fanaticism in Islam. For them, even countries like Saudi Arabia – who have historically been official sponsors of global jihad – are not Islamic enough, since they promote enmity with people’s organizations like Muslim Brotherhood and are responsible for the killing of fellow Muslims. Omar and Tlaib further call themselves women’s activists even as they promote their brand of Muslim identity. We have such people in India as well, but they are officially designated as terrorists rather than given elected offices. In India, in Kashmir, a terrorist organization called Dukhtaran-e-Millat is run by a popular woman militant called Asiya Andrabi, who supposedly represents women and talks of their rights and yet makes her outlook very compatible with anti-India and radical Islamist terrorist activities.
Such Islamist voices are emerging all over UK and Europe as well, in the name of multiculturalism and democracy and secularism, and the Western governments are helpless. US had been insulated so far, but the election of Omar and Tlaib – with their openly Muslim symbols even in defiance of House rules – and the venomous activities and discourse that they have initiated on a daily basis has dealt a big setback to the future politics of the US.
They represent the kind of sentiments that used to form the populist support bases of the ISIS. The movement of thousands of people to join ISIS – and now, the kind of support being garnered by people like Omar and Tlaib shows that Muslim radicalization is occurring at the grassroots levels beyond the control or machinations of Muslim states. They represent the next level of political Islam.
The Protective Spirit of Nationalism
In the contemporary times and with such an elaborate plethora of technological and intellectual frills covering our inner self, we, as the case of US shows, are on a path of self-destruction. It is a lesson for all countries – a lesson in nationalism and a lesson in not taking our culture frivolously. Vapid intellectualism – through its talks of secularism and rights – attacks like a slow poison, spreading through the society without any of the ‘wise men’ realizing it, and one fine day, we find things come tumbling down around us. This is what has happened in the US.
The US has been known for its ruthless protection of American national interest and no mask of multiculturalism was allowed to compromise with that. But the seed of destruction was already sown in the pretenses of liberalism and banality of the US society. Obama exploited these weaknesses and turned the nightmare of multiculturalism into reality, as the case of Linda Sarsour shows. With Obama’s rather soft ideological approach towards Muslim political identity, things could be expected to follow automatically. The white backlash represented in the form of Trump only further strengthened this Muslim identity and brought forth the hatred that can be discerned through Omar’s words.
With multiculturalism no longer an empty narrative and firmly lodged in the US Congress, the protective shield of the US nationalism can be seen withering away, leading to extremely sharp struggles rarely seen before. The Left never existed in US politics except on fringes and yet, today, a national political party in America is helplessly seeing its own destruction with its hands tied.
The disregard of the god of the nation will lead to the desertion of the spirit and shield of nationalism, for, nations are also living gods and goddesses. Sri Aurobindo writes that, “Each nation is a Shakti or power of the evolving spirit in humanity and lives by the principle which it embodies.” (CWSA 20, pages 57) The present times are marked by a disregard or ignorance of the nation. What is happening in the US holds lessons for India as well, since our politics is also soiled by vapid actions and rhetoric designed to compromise the nation and fulfill short-term interests.