New York Times congressional reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg went all out in “glorifying” the election of Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota a left-wing woman with a history of anti-Israel rhetoric newly elected to Congress: “Glorified and Vilified, Former Somalia Refugee Makes Her Way to Capitol.” The text box to the Monday edition story: “Sure-footed and tough, with a flair for inspirational rhetoric.”
As a 12-year-old refugee from Somalia adjusting to life in the Virginia suburbs, Ilhan Omar fended off bullies who stuck gum on her scarf, knocked her down stairs and jumped her when she changed clothes for gym class.
Her father “sat me down, and he said, ‘Listen, these people who are doing all of these things to you, they’re not doing something to you because they dislike you,’” Ms. Omar recalled in a recent interview. “They are doing something to you because they feel threatened in some way by your existence.”
Now Ms. Omar is Representative-elect Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, and her father’s words still hold. Nearly a quarter-century later, as Democrats prepare to assume control of the House with an extraordinarily diverse freshman class, she is perhaps Washington’s most glorified and vilified newcomer -- a vehicle for the hopes of millions of Muslims and others touched by her life story, and for the fears of those who feel threatened by her.
Stolberg demonstrated, but didn’t seem to pick up on, how the “glorification” part of Omar’s career is being driven by media coverage.
Yet in her short political career, which began two years ago when she unseated a 44-year incumbent to win a seat in the Minnesota Legislature, Ms. Omar has also been featured on the cover of a Time magazine edition spotlighting “women who are changing the world”; appeared on “The Daily Show,” where she publicly invited President Trump to tea; danced in a Maroon 5 music video; and become the subject of her own documentary, “Time for Ilhan.”
“She’s the epitome of the so-called American dream, but for much of white Christian America, she’s an American nightmare,” said Larycia Hawkins, who teaches politics and religion at the University of Virginia, and lost her job at an evangelical college after wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women.
Ms. Omar’s life story is, in many respects, uniquely American, an immigrant who worked hard and made good. She also embodies the complicated crosscurrents around immigration, race and religion that dominate Mr. Trump’s Washington.
Another catch to throw into the brimming “conservatives seize” bucket:
Running for office meant upending gender norms in the Somali community, where politics is typically the province of men. It also forced Ms. Omar to make public details about her complicated private life, which became fodder for conservative bloggers, who seized on her brief marriage to a British citizen....
Her election that year made her the first Somali-American state legislator in the nation, but some conservative colleagues were put off by her frank talk about race, religion and discrimination.
Stolberg didn’t completely avoid Omar’s controversies, but carefully spun them in Omar’s direction, and minimized or skipped the creepier aspects, totally avoiding Omar’s paranoid anti-Israel tweet from 2012, that Israel had “hypnotized the world” to ignore its “evil doings.” In fact, a nytimes.com search suggests the only Times news story to mention it failed to condemn it. Editorial writer Bari Weiss did call it an “unconscionable” comment, part of the unrecognized “hatred of the left.”
And Ms. Omar’s careful answer on the 2018 campaign trail to questions about Israel -- and her postelection clarification that she does indeed back the boycott, divest and sanctions movement -- has left some Jewish leaders feeling betrayed.
Stolberg ended with an admiring anecdote:
Already, she has worked with Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the incoming chairman of the Rules Committee, to carve out a religious exception to the no-hats rule. She gave a hint of her style in her sassy response to the pastor, Bishop E. W. Jackson, who complained that the House floor would look like an Islamic republic.
“Well sir,” she wrote on Twitter, “the floor of Congress is going to look like America … And you’re gonna have to just deal.”
Philip Klein at the Washington Examiner called the story “an attempt to discredit her critics by lumping them all together with racists and conspiracy mongers.”