Renée Graham

Trump’s attack on Ilhan Omar is the latest front in his war against Muslims

(Photo illustration by Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe; Globe file photo)

The president of the United States is endangering the life of a US congresswoman.

Trump last week tweeted a video clip of out-of-context remarks by Representative Ilhan Omar superimposed over images of the 9/11 attacks. Ever since, she has been inundated with death threats. It has gotten so extreme that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the US Capitol Police and the House sergeant-at-arms “are conducting a security assessment to safeguard” the Minnesota Democrat as well as her family and staff.

In a statement, Omar said many of the threats mention Trump’s tweet, and she cited the spike in hate crimes nationally and around the world by far-right white extremists. “We can no longer ignore that they are being encouraged by the occupant of the highest office in the land.” Omar added, “We are all Americans. This is endangering lives. It has to stop.”


In an already overheated climate of racism, Trump’s actions are irresponsible — or what he would likely call a winning strategy.

Racism got Trump to the White House and, with what’s likely to be a hard reelection fight ahead, he’s not going to abandon it now. It’s the kind of stupid tough-guy talk his supporters lap up. In Omar, Trump has found a target that ticks every box: She’s a black woman, an immigrant, and Muslim.

Omar, 37, was born in Somalia, and came to this country as a child with her family to escape war in their homeland. At 17, she became an American citizen. Of course, that means she’s not American enough for Trump and his followers.

“She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad, I think, for our country,” Trump told a reporter Monday. “I think she’s extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.”


Notice how Trump uses the term “our country.” He’s claiming this nation for those who look and think like him, and that will never include a black woman in a hijab. From the White House to Fox News, it’s an amplified dog whistle in the key of white supremacy.

Just as Trump tried to delegitimize Barack Obama’s historic presidency by questioning his native-born citizenship, branding Omar as “unpatriotic” is code for anti-American and unworthy. But we already know that Trump’s dislike of Muslims is boundless. After a 2015 mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., with a Muslim couple as suspects, then-candidate Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering our country.” One week into his presidency, he signed an executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries to America.

Trump makes no distinction between extremists and peaceful disciples of Islam.

Condemning such Islamophobia is exactly what Omar was doing in the speech now being maliciously twisted against her. At a Council on American-Islamic Relations event last month, she said, “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 that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

CAIR, in fact, was founded in 1994, but her other point is correct, if inelegantly stated. When she said, “some people did something,” Omar meant the actions of terrorists indicted an entire religion. Trump and the worst of his followers falsely claim Omar belittled the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.


Now they want her silenced. Or worse.

Omar was elected in last November’s blue wave that swept the House back into the hands of Democrats. She and freshman Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan became the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress. To racists, inclusion always looks like infiltration.

So they do what they’ve always done — lie, demean, roar against progress, and threaten bodily harm. Likewise, the warning is the same: Know your place, or you will have no place at all.

From a Pittsburgh synagogue to a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, and too many points in between, Trump’s racist incitement is accruing a body count. When the worst occurs, he denies culpability, then stirs the pot until it overboils again.

In 2016, Trump declared “Islam hates us.” What’s clear is that Trump hates Islam, and his rhetorical war against Omar is just his latest front against the world’s Muslims. He’s promoting Islamophobia to inflame his base and carve a path back to the White House next year — even if his reckless words pave that road in blood.

Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.