The GOP is the party of Islamophobia
Republicans were always going to come for Rep. Ilhan Omar.
From the moment the Minnesota Democrat was elected to Congress as one of the chamber's few Muslims — and a hijab-wearing Muslim, to boot — her destiny was fixed. Republican conservatives were always going to paint her as the enemy, depict her as un-American, and find some way to smear her with the 9/11 terror attacks on America. Fox's Jeanine Pirro was always going to say Omar's religious practices were incompatible with the Constitution. President Trump, who has a long history of picking on women of color anyway, was always going to shine his Twitter spotlight on her. West Virginia Republicans were always going to suggest she is a terrorist.
Now, the ugly din has grown so loud that Omar finds herself needing physical protection.
This sad debacle was inevitable. We should have seen it coming. Why? Because the GOP is the party of Islamophobia — and it is led by the sort of folks who see themselves in a "clash of civilizations" with one of the world's largest religions.
Conservatives have been campaigning against Islam — not just the religion's extremist adherents, but the religion itself — ever since 9/11. They've questioned the loyalty of Muslim Republicans. They've tried banning Muslim refugees from entering the United States. In communities across the country — from New York to Tennessee to California — they've taken extraordinary steps to block the construction of Muslim houses of worship. Some have even contended that Islam is not a religion, but an authoritarian ideology. Over the years, some conservatives — including Trump during his campaign days — even falsely suggested that President Obama was a secret Muslim and in league with terrorists.
Omar is just the latest target for their ongoing campaign.
It's true that she didn't help herself by arriving in Congress making comments that were easily construed as anti-Semitic. That's on her: If you're ready to serve in Congress in America, you should be educated enough and sensitive enough to avoid such pitfalls. (The same should be true of the president too, by the way.) She should do better. But it's probably too late. Republicans have found a suitable scapegoat for their Muslim prejudices.
The latest controversy — the idea that Omar downplayed the seriousness of the 9/11 attacks — is, well, Trumped-up. As my colleague Ryan Cooper explained last week, those criticisms rely on her comments being taken out of context. But the history of GOP conservatives in the post-9/11 era suggests the congresswoman's critics probably didn't need much of a pretext to come after her in the first place.
Implicit in much of the overwrought criticism of Omar is the idea that she's a person in power who can't be trusted to do the right thing because of her other allegiances. If it's false and unjust — and it unequivocally is — to make such "dual loyalty" accusations against American Jews, it is also false and unjust to do the same to American Muslims.
Not all Republicans have jumped on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. Former President George W. Bush spent much of his presidency calling Islam a religion of peace. The Texas Republicans who tried to kick a Muslim from their leadership ranks lost by a wide margin. And yes, Jeanine Pirro was briefly suspended for her anti-Omar comments.
But those are the exceptions. Mostly, Republican leaders have either been too cowardly to confront Islamophobia in their ranks, or in some cases, they've been happy to try to ride a wave of anti-Muslim prejudice to electoral success. Remember, Trump campaigned on a promised "Muslim ban."
In today's GOP, anti-Muslim biases are foundational: A 2017 Pew survey suggested that roughly two-thirds of Republicans believe both that Islam is not part of mainstream American society and that there is a natural conflict between Islam and democracy. These views are pervasive among Republicans in critical leadership positions: Trump's secretary of state and national security adviser are both known associates of Frank Gaffney, once described as "Washington's most dogged peddler of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories."
On Sunday, NeverTrump conservative David Frum said Democrats were mistaken to leap to Omar's defense this against Trump, warning that the "political consequences will become ever more costly for Democrats who want to win national elections and govern the country."
That's terrible advice.
Progressives should continue to defend Omar, and keep pointing out how the GOP’s inflammatory comments endanger her and the broader Muslim American community. And they should resist the temptation to downplay their defenses of her for the sake of political expediency.