Racism in Congress

Islamophobic poster links Muslim congresswoman to 9/11 attacks

Madeline Fuerstenberg

More stories from Madeline Fuerstenberg

November 2, 2020


Ilhan Omar is serving as one of the first Muslim members of Congress in U.S. history.

I want to talk about hate. Hate directed toward people who don’t look like us, or who don’t believe the same things we believe. This is hatred based off ignorance, ethnocentrism and racial superiority. It is not based in facts, logic or actual, justifiable reasoning.

This is the hatred that was shamelessly directed toward Omar Ilhan (D) at West Virginia’s “GOP Day” on March 1. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the situation, allow me to fill you in.

Omar is a first-year U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district. As a Somali-American refugee, Omar is currently one of two Muslim congresswoman ever elected.

On March 1, the West Virginia Capitol played host to an event meant to celebrate the Republican Party. At the event, a poster was displayed next to a placard promoting ACT for America. ACT for America has been deemed an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, according to an article from the Washington Post.

The upper half of the poster featured a photo of the Twin Towers as they burned on Sept. 11, 2001.

“‘Never forget’ — You said,” read the top half of the poster.

The bottom half featured a photo of Omar, with the words, “I am the proof — You have forgotten.”

According to the Post, it is unclear who created or displayed the poster. Upon discovery of the poster, a “heated debate” began in the hallway outside the House of Delegates, which eventually “spilled into the chamber,” the Post reported. A doorkeeper was supposedly injured during the dispute.

“The body’s sergeant at arms submitted a letter of resignation at the end of the day after being accused of making an anti-Muslim slur during the dispute, according to West Virginia Public Radio and other local outlets,” the article said.

Other U.S. politicians — like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D) and Mike Pushkin (D) — spoke out against the poster, condemning its Islamophobic implications. According to Pushkin, who was present in the West Virginia Capital on the day of the event, “no Republican delegates condemned the poster” at the time. The Post reported that many Republicans, like Rep. Dianna Graves, responded to the incident by citing the First Amendment, or the right for freedom of speech.

But I’m not here to debate the morality of Democrats versus Republicans. Saying all Republicans are bad people would be like saying all Muslims are terrorists. And what kind of ignorant person would say something like that?

Apparently, whoever made that racist poster.

Because, yes — despite the fact that, as a journalist, I strongly believe in our First Amendment rights — choosing to display that poster was an extremely racist decision. Omar is a Muslim refugee of color. She is also a strong woman who came to this country fair and square. She became an American citizen, she earned the respect of her constituents and she fought for her position. Singling her out by connecting her to a terrorist attack sends a very strong message.

Aside from a common religion, what does Omar have to do with what happened on 9/11? As far as I understand, Somalia played no role in the attacks. For four years, Omar and her family lived in a Kenyan refugee camp before she came to the U.S. at the age of 8. She may not have been born here, but she grew up here.

Any implications that connect Omar to terrorism are based completely out of ignorance, prejudice and racism. The person who made this poster should be ashamed. That display was disgusting and horrible, and it breaks my heart that other people around the world might associate all Americans with behavior like that.

In America, we have the right to speak and believe freely. I don’t believe in censorship, nor do I believe any point of view is more valid than another, but this is hate speech. It serves no purpose aside from simply inspiring more hate. It is not supported by logic or reason, and it is far from necessary.

Fuerstenberg can be reached at [email protected]