Since her historic win on Nov. 6 as the first Somali-American Muslim woman in Congress, Ilhan Omar has been very busy: attending House freshman orientation in Washington DC, making friends with other elected progressive women, working to lift a ban that prohibits scarves and hats in the legislative chambers, and addressing issues from climate change to improving the well-being of incarcerated women.
The Democratic candidate was resoundingly elected with over 78% of the vote in Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, and along with Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian-American from Michigan, is poised to become one of two first Muslim women serving in Congress come January.
But as busy as Ilhan’s been on readying for Capitol Hill, so has the digital sphere where stories of misinformation are being peddled about her, some of which have gone viral on social media platforms. One post shared on both Facebook and Twitter attributes two quotes to Ilhan as saying, “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare” and “I think all white men should be put in chains as slaves because they will never submit to Islam.” The post was juxtaposed with the photo of the 36-year-old that appeared on the cover of Time magazine last year.
Ilhan did make the first statement after she appeared on the comedy news program, Daily Show with Trevor Noah in July. But the US-based fact-checking website PolitiFact found the second statement false, saying there’s no evidence she made those comments. Yet on Twitter, some users commented on the flagged post with objectionable responses, with one writing “Won’t be hard to take out a jihadi swines [sic]. Bring on terrorist.” The congresswoman-elected shared screenshots of some of those accounts, which seemed suspended as of publication.
Twitter has taken aim at alt-right activists and groups in recent months, banning conspiracy theorist and provocateur Alex Jones as well as his website Infowars in September. While the platform says it upholds free expression, it also enforces policies that “prohibit abusive behavior.”
Ilhan also faced criticism this week from the far-right news site Breitbart for allegedly arguing against a 2017 bill banning female genital mutilation. This is despite the fact that Ilhan had voted in the affirmative to pass the bill along with 128 other members of the Minnesota state legislature. The lawmaker responded to the claims on Twitter, writing “I am perplexed by the number of “reporters” who are so allergic to the truth … Do better, just do better!”
As one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, Ilhan was censured for supporting the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement too. The nonviolent movement seeks to pressure Israel to comply with international laws by withdrawing support for Israeli companies and urging governments to hold the Israeli government accountable. While she’s called the resistance tactic “counteractive” in the past, she told Muslim Girl magazine in a post-election interview that she “believes in and supports the BDS movement.”
Conservative figure Laura Loomer condemned Ilhan on Twitter, calling her “anti-Jewish,” a member of a religion in which “homosexuals are oppressed” and “women are abused” and “forced to wear the hijab.” Twitter suspended Loomer’s account following those comments.
For now, Ilhan is receiving support from activists and fellow congresswomen. Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour said in a Facebook post that Ilhan was being attacked for supporting “the right for people to engage in constitutionally protected freedoms.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is a fellow congress member-elect from New York, said the “racism allowed towards Ilhan and other is completely unacceptable” She also lambasted Facebook and Twitter, saying the platforms were laden with hate speech and fake accounts. “We need to get it together.”