On November 6, the Americans who live in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District did something that puts them in a difficult position with regard to the President of the United States: they elected a person who meets his criteria for categorical exclusion from American territory to represent them in America’s Congress.
Trump’s response to Ilhan Omar’s election was cordial at first. “From a dealmaking standpoint, we’re all much better off the way it turned out,” Trump said. But if Omar and her new colleagues attempt to investigate Trump’s administration for corruption, or to scrutinize his finances or his conduct in office, she will be met with what he calls a warlike stance.
Omar must take that kind of language to heart in a way that Trump himself cannot imagine: unlike him, she knows war firsthand. Omar was born in Somalia, a country where war is not a matter of posturing but rather a continuous, pervasive threat to existence. It’s one of the countries Trump referred to as a shithole.
Perhaps because of her experience with war, or perhaps because she’s a Muslim, Omar’s first public utterance as Congresswoman-elect was an invocation of peace.
“As-salam aleikum,” she said to her supporters.
“Wa aleikum salaam,” they responded.
Those phrases constitute the conventional exchange with which millions of Muslims greet each other every day, all over the world: “Peace be upon you,” the new congresswoman said; “And upon you be peace,” her constituents answered.
Trump believes that people like Ilhan Omar, who are trying to escape from the continuous pervasive threat of war, will pose that same threat in the country where they hope to find refuge. His travel ban, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court, makes it illegal for Somali people to set foot on American soil. Fortunately for Minnesota, Omar sought safe haven in America during a different era, when threatening political opponents with a war-like stance would have been unthinkable for anyone hoping to advance beyond the office of Senior Class President.
“I think a lot of people probably didn’t believe that the kind of rhetoric he used on the campaign trail would affect their communities,” Omar told Mehdi Hasan in an interview on Al Jazeera News.
She said she hoped her election would help shift the narrative of what’s possible in this country.
“I represent the America that still allows people to fulfill the dream that you can come here at the age of 12 knowing only two phrases of English, put yourself through school, and ultimately defeat a multi-term incumbent to win a seat at the table. I want people to know that dream isn’t closed off.”
Everyone who values that dream should thank the Americans who live in Minnesota for commissioning Ilhan Omar to go to Washington and check the power of the man who’s afraid of people like her. “Peace be upon you,” she will probably say when she meets him.
What she said on Tuesday night was, “Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah, Alhamdulillah,” meaning “All praise to God, all praise to God, all praise to God.”
At those words, people like her erupted in cheers.