Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar Shows How Intersectionality Can Elevate Bigotry

Represenatative Ilhan Omar (D, Minn.) (Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia)
Her identity grants her credibility, her experience grants her authority, and her progressive friends see it as their responsibility to act as her allies.

Something remarkable is happening on the Democratic side of the aisle. Faced with multiple anti-Semitic statements from freshman member of Congress Ilhan Omar, the Democrats are actually struggling to unite to condemn her remarks. This disunity is made all the more remarkable by the fact that there is nothing at all subtle about what Omar has said. In the past she’s tweeted that Israel has “hypnotized the world.” Recently, she’s claimed that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” and has now twice raised the argument that support for Israel involved “allegiance” to a foreign country.

Each of these statements represents a classic anti-Semitic trope, and the latter statements were made after she came under fire for her previous comments. She knew she was under scrutiny and yet doubled down.

While multiple Democrats have condemned her comments forcefully and unequivocally, she’s also enjoying a curious wave of support. Just as a sampling, there’s this:

And this:

And this stunning statement from House majority whip Jim Clyburn, as reported at The Hill:

Clyburn came to Omar’s defense Wednesday, lamenting that many of the media reports surrounding the recent controversy have omitted mentioning that Omar, who was born in Somalia, had to flee the country to escape violence and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States.

Her experience, Clyburn argued, is much more empirical — and powerful — than that of people who are generations removed from the Holocaust, Japanese internment camps during World War II and the other violent episodes that have marked history.

“I’m serious about that. There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” Clyburn said. “I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.”

What is going on? Why are we seeing so many prominent voices rally to Omar’s side? This is how intersectionality works. Essentially, the pattern goes like this. Under intersectionality theories, your identity grants you credibility, your experience grants you authority, and the responsibility then of your progressive friends is to act as your allies.

Omar’s identity — as a woman of color, as a Muslim, as a refugee — means that she speaks with great experiential authority. She comes to the public square (as Tlaib and Clyburn indicate) from a position of personal pain and direct experience with marginalization and oppression. Allyship then means that it’s important to elevate her voice and to protect her credibility. To treat her as the GOP (finally) treated Steve King is unthinkable. Direct rebuke (much less direct action, such as stripping her of her committee assignments) is interpreted as an attack not on her ideas but on her very identity.

And so, there is now talk of a compromise resolution, one that comports with requirements of intersectionality by not singling out the “marginalized” member of Congress in the most powerful nation in the history of the world, but rather condemning bigotry more broadly. According to the Washington Post, the Democrats are now set to vote on a resolution that “will not mention Omar by name and will condemn other forms of hate, including that directed at Muslims.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez approves:

This is campus activism come to Congress. Did you wonder why campus incidents so often seem to elevate the most radical voices? The same dynamic applies. Activists who possess the proper identity then speak with absolute authority, and the only acceptable woke response is to ally with their demands.

On the one hand, there is an element of intersectionality that simply comports with common sense — after all, people from different identity groups do experience the world differently, and any diverse society values diverse voices. But identity isn’t a substitute for credibility or authority or morality. We respect people enough to treat them as adults and weigh their ideas on their own merits.

By that standard, there is no merit to Omar’s noxious thoughts. Accusations of Israeli hypnotism, purchased loyalty, and dual allegiance don’t represent thoughtful critiques of Israeli policy. Omar’s challenging childhood isn’t the fault of the Israeli government, and it doesn’t relieve her of the obligation to shun the vicious anti-Semitism that plagues the extreme Left.

Moreover, anti-Semitism is no small matter. Carol Roth gets this exactly right:

We might also add that, immediately after the Holocaust, multiple Arab nations united in a generation-long effort to use massive military force to wipe out the world’s only Jewish state. And even today, Jews in the most advanced nations of Europe face a level of anti-Semitism and violence that is utterly shameful. Americans shouldn’t be so arrogant as to assume that our nation is immune to those ideological currents.

In fact, given the zealous defense of Ilhan Omar, the continued reign of the anti-Semites perched atop the Women’s March, and the ongoing acceptance of Louis Farrakhan, it’s clear that parts of the American Left are drifting in the direction of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party.

Identity cannot be a substitute for or a supplement to reason and morality. Anti-Semitic voices are no more valuable coming from a refugee than from a redneck. If Democrats cannot recognize that fundamental fact, then intersectionality will have encroached on decency, and bigotry will have made yet another cultural advance.


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