Rep. Omar’s firestorm still heated

Herb Boyd | 3/14/2019, 9:34 a.m.

When Fox News weighs in to support Rep. Ilhan Omar, you know she’s stirred a complicated hornet’s nest of controversy.

For over a week Omar, 36, one of the first two Muslim women elected to the United States’ Congress, has roiled the political firmament, even among her Democratic Party colleagues.

The most recent spark from her firestorm occurred Sunday evening, March 10, when Fox News condemned its host Jeanine Pirro for suggesting that Omar’s wearing of a hijab places her in conflict with the U.S. Constitution.

Pirro said: “Think about it. Omar wears a hijab, which, according to the Qur’an 33:59, tells women to cover so they won’t be 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?”

In response to her comments Fox News stated, “We strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro’s comments about Ilhan Omar. They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly.”

This uptick comes in the wake of last week’s vote on a resolution condemning prejudice. While the resolution ended up being a broad condemnation and excluded Omar, a representative from Minnesota, from being singled out, her comments were certainly at the heart of the measure.

After Omar suggested that pro-Israeli activists were intent on forging an “allegiance to a foreign country,” it alarmed many members of her party, most notably the Jewish members who charged the comment was anti-Semitic.

Her comment, according to Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was “a vile anti-Semitic slur…and would not be swept under the rug.” Her removal from a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee and her name attached to the declaration of intolerance hung in the balance before the Black Caucus noted that Omar had been the target of anti-Muslim bigotry in West Virginia where a poster linked her to the 9/11 attacks.

To quiet the furor, Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed for a broader resolution and that Omar’s name not be added. It was amended to include condemnation of all forms of hatred and bigotry.

For Omar all the turbulence created from her comments, especially her comments that “it was all about the Benjamins”—a reference to Benjamin Franklin’s image on the $100 bills—must have reminded her of all the turmoil of her life that began in Somalia and then with many years as a refugee in Kenya. In her apology, she expressed gratitude, thanking her Jewish allies and colleagues for “educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”

Neither her apology nor the resolution pleased the Republican members of the House, several saying the resolution had been watered down. Twenty-three Republicans opposed the resolution but Rep. Steve King of Iowa abstained, though he’s no stranger to bigotry with his insults of Mexicans and his pondering why white supremacy was considered offensive. He was stripped of his committee assignment.

Meanwhile, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been among those unwaveringly supportive of Omar, praising her courage and insight. In a tweet Sunday evening, she said that “Rep. Omar, a survivor of war, is one of the most effective voices right now at cutting through the authoritarian foreign policy tendencies of this administration.”

She also cited Omar’s comments on Trump’s handling of the crisis in Venezuela. “Trump and Elliott Abrams cannot be trusted to tell the truth about what’s happening in Venezuela,” Omar tweeted, as she questioned the circumstances behind an alleged attack on a Venezuelan relief convoy. A video shows that the fire was ignited by parts of a Molotov cocktail thrown by an anti-government protester.

“We must continue to question the narratives they provide and promote dialogue instead of intervention,” Omar added.