Ilhan Omar’s ill-advised dismissal of Masih Alinejad

“So this lady doesn’t want to combat Islamophobia,” “she just doesn’t like Muslims.”

When Muslim-born Iranian journalist and women’s rights campaigner Masih Alinejad wrote why she opposed a bill against Islamophobia introduced by US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, Mr Tim Mynett, Omar’s husband, a political consultant, immediately tweeted that “this lady” (Masih) did not like Muslims. 

Besides this offensive tweet, Masih Alinejad was dismissed by Rep. Omar. The Congresswoman’s office responded to Masih’s article by accusing the Iranian journalist of “rehashing bigoted Republican talking points.” 

Rep. Omar’s Islamophobia bill, which was adopted by the US House of Representatives, mandates the creation of a State Department office to combat Islamophobia around the world. The bill requires the State Department to include data on incidents of Islamophobia in its reports on human rights.

This was not the first time Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has shown hostility toward Masih Alinejad. In 2020, Omar shared a defamatory article about Masih on social media by a Koch Brothers-funded “think tank” co-founded by a known sympathizer of the Iranian regime.

It is hard to imagine that a progressive member of Congress, a fellow woman of colour, and her husband, would be hostile to a fellow Muslim fighting against oppressive practices of Islamists. But there was a previous incident. 

In 2019, Omar snapped at  another Muslim Human Rights advocate, Ani Osman-Zonneveld, who urged Omar to state her views on female genital mutilation (FGM). Rep. Omar replied that the question was “appalling” and “frustrating” and that she was “quite disgusted” by it. She suggested that FGM had become a particular litmus test for Muslim-elected officials, one that makes assumptions about their religious and cultural identities 

What both Ani Osman-Zonneveld and Masih Alinejad wanted was clarity from the Muslim Congresswoman on thorny topics that affect Muslims, such as Islamophobia versus Islamism and the barbaric practice of FGM, but asking for clarity, it seems, is considered offensive to Ilhan Omar and her fan club.

In fact, Rep. Omar’s bill on Islamophobia shows a distinct lack of clarity, and is a glaring example of vagueness. As Masih Alinejad highlighted, the bill does not provide a clear definition of Islamophobia or differentiates between what constitutes hate against Muslims and what is a fair and appropriate criticism of oppressive ideologies and regimes.

I am a Muslim and strongly agree with Masih Alinejad in her objection of the Islamophobia bill. While Muslims welcome a firm stance against bigotry, many Muslims fear that the vague bill could be misused by Islamists, who could pull the Islamophobia card against opponents of blasphemy and apostasy laws, and even use it to justify violence in the name of “standing against haters of Islam.”

Sadly, clarity is not what Rep. Omar and her team are after. In their monochromic world, there are good guys that stand with Ilhan Omar and do not ever challenge her views and policies, and bad guys, who by disagreeing with the Muslim Congresswoman, dislike all Muslims and hate Islam. Amidst the current polarisation within the American political scene, Rep. Omar’s divisive politics of “you are either with me or with the bad guys,” have worked well. When former President Trump or any of his Republican camp attacked Omar, most Democrats rallied behind her, which is precisely why her Islamophobia bill passed successfully in the House of Representatives.

However, as the political scene changes, other Muslim activists, such as Masih Alinejad, are changing the rules of the game for Rep. Ilhan Omar. For the first time, there is another woman of colour, with a similar background, armed with a good cause, who has the courage to stand against the Congresswoman without fear or intimidation. 

Masih’s quest for nuance, and her appeal for American policy makers to see the difference between Islam and Islamism, is bound to unhinge Rep. Ilhan and her team. Masih’s chauvinistic dismissal is a clear indication that “team Ilhan” is struggling to provide a valid rebuttal to the Iranian journalist’s objection of the Islamophobia bill.   

Ilhan Omar’s game is all about American politics, with its polarisation and tribalism. Within that game, the use of Islam and the race card are powerful tools for achieving prominence. But for Masih, the goal could not be more different. It is about the millions of Muslims, particularly women, who are oppressed by regressive Islamist regimes and groups, such as the Mullah regime of Iran and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Masih does not need to play any political game, because her facts, from the harsh reality on the ground in Iran and Afghanistan, are more powerful than any politics, and simply speak for themselves.  

The changing reality of the Muslim world is that increasing numbers of Muslim women and men, from Afghanistan to Iran, and from Turkey to Egypt, are speaking out openly against Islamism. Masih Alinejad is not alone. Behind her are millions of bereaved Muslim victims of Islamist oppression, violence, and terrorism. These victims include under-age girls forced into marriage, forced to wear a hijab, being unjustly imprisoned, or facing barbaric genital mutilation. It would be unwise for the American Congresswomen to ignore the plight of these girls and women for the sake of cheap political gains. 

About nervana111

Doctor, blogger and Commentator on Middle East issues. The only practising doctor who write in Middle Eastern politics in UK.
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