A wave of new American Muslim women in office is seen as a response to the politics of dehumanization and a resistance to to the rise of unchecked ethnic nationalism. Long before President Trump met with criticism and accusations for dog-whistling neo-Nazis across America, the unchecked and surging presence of personalities like Richard Spencer, Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos became a festering wound on the ethos of the Republican Party. While many within the GOP didn’t and do not support the rhetoric, they also haven’t done much to challenge it.
It didn’t help when moral equivalencies came from President Trump after the 2017 Charlottesville KKK rally when he said, “I think there is blame on both sides.” Speaking of white nationalists, he added, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides.”
For minority communities, that was another kind of signal. Sometimes, a non-answer is the answer.
As former President Obama said when he commented on Trump’s decision to not be decisive against hate groups, “You’ve got the power to make sure white nationalists don’t feel embolden to march with their hoods off or their hoods on in Charlottesville in the middle of the day.”
Yet, perhaps it’s important that we’re seeing these attitudes surface so we can address them once and for all.
All of this is to say that ethnic nationalism across Europe and America is (for many, especially the Jewish people) reminiscent of another era that began much the same way: the rise of Nazi Germany. These attitudes didn’t dissolve with the end of the war; they just went underground. For obvious reasons, these patterns are a tremendous concern for American Muslims as well.
The Republican Party has a history of candidates who feel comfortable taking off their hood. Last week, the U.S. midterms saw eight-term Congressman Steve King, once again, win the congressional seat in Iowa. King has a well-documented history of relying on the current of ethnic nationalism running through the Republican Party — where again a non-answer that doesn’t fiercely challenge white supremacist rhetoric, is an answer that tells voters that the party is not motivated to clean house when attacks are against people of color.
King supports the Nazi-affiliated far right Austrian Freedom Party. The leader of the Austrian Freedom Party is a former SS officer, a Hitler-era Nazi.
Speaking of young, undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, King said they have calves the size of cantaloupes “because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” He also said, “We can’t restore our civilization with other people’s babies.”
Just a few days ago, The Weekly Standard, a conservative paper, published audio of Congressman King repeatedly referring to immigrants as “dirt” while his peers laughed. White nationalists are becoming comfortable coming forward in part through enablers. Meanwhile, the American people are witness a startling increase of videos and photos that were thought to only live in the pages of history books. The question is, what should be the response to this?
The green wave of American Muslim women who ran and won their bid for political office rose in part as a response to the pattern of marginalizing rhetoric and policy that many Americans are seeing as counter to American values. As American politics tears further down the middle, each side is veering to the most fringe ideology within their party. For some American Muslims, that has meant entering public life while “flaunting” their faith and leading with their own ideological whistles, especially when it comes to Palestine.
Just days after her win, Minnesota’s Rep.-Elect Ilhan Omar announced her support for the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. During the campaign trail, Omar told audiences she believed BDS was “counteractive” since it wasn’t “helpful in getting a two-state solution.” However, on November 11, 2018, Omar’s campaign switched her position saying the congresswoman-elect believes in and supports the BDS movement. None of this came as a surprise for folks who had been paying attention to Omar.
Omar has a history of demonizing Israel. In 2012, Omar accused Israel of “hypnotizing the world” and asked God to “awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Just before the midterm elections, Omar stood by that tweeted and defended her position.
Omar is the first Muslim woman elected to Congress, alongside Rashida Tlaib who has her own concerning pieced-together interpretation of the issues that criticize Israel without looking at one of the main agitators in the region: Hamas.
As Elle Magazine described, for Muslim American women, Omar and Tlaib are being seen as Muslim warriors. Yet, many of us would argue that what America really needs is more healers (and not more personalities looking to flaunt their identities).
The question that remains is how will more American Muslims, especially women, lead in the years to come and in future elections.
Dr. Walid Phares, a senior advisor to the American Mideast Coalition for Democracy and a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign in 2016, believes that non-homogenic American Muslims should consider running for office in 2020 and 2022. This would include Ahmadis, Sufis and reformists, for example. Phares also advocates for Yazidis, Assyrians, Copts and other minorities from persecuted regions to consider running for congressional elections.
However, conservative candidates from this demographic are unlikely to step forward unless the Republican party can press the reset button.
Editor’s note: The title of this article has been changed back to how it was framed in the author’s initial submission, undoing editorial changes that came later.