Commentary: Speaking at an event sponsored by CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), Congresswoman Ilhan Absullahi Omar, a Somali-American member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving for Minnesota's 5th congressional district, said, “Muslims for a really long time in this country have been told that there is a privilege, that there is a privilege that we are given and it might be taken away... We are told that we should be appropriate. We should go to school, get an education, raise our children, and not bother anyone, not make any kind of noise. Don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Be a good Muslim. But no matter how much we have tried to be the best neighbor, people have always worked on finding a way to not allow for every single civil liberty to be extended to us.”
Omar then stated: “It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you one day find yourself in a school where other religions are talked about, but when Islam is mentioned, we are only talking about terrorists. And if you say something, you are sent to the principal’s office. So to me, I say, raise hell. Make people uncomfortable. Because here’s the truth, here’s the truth, far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen. And frankly, I’m tired of it. And every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it.”
So far no problem. But it was the next sentence that made so many people upset, some to the point of hysterics. Omar pointed out that “CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange, that I am going to try to make myself look pleasant. You have to say this person is looking at me strange, I am not comfortable with it. I am going to talk to them and ask them why. Because that is a right you have.”
So that's it. The congresswoman from Minnesota said, "some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties."
Set aside the disturbing fact that no one is truly allowed to think and speak critically about the events of 9/11, at least not without receiving major blowback, what did Omar say that was false? The last time I checked someone carried out the gruesome attacks on that day of horror. It wasn't aliens from another star system. Someone, meaning some people, did carry out those attacks. But who can say they know all of the identities of the conspirators?
When Omar said that "some people did something," at least she is being candid about the current state of evidence relating to the personal identities of the hijackers and their assistants. Contrary to popular belief, the real identities of the 9/11 hijackers is still a matter of debate among law enforcement agencies and national intelligence networks. At the time, the Washington Post and other news outlets reported that FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged that "investigators may not know the true identities of some of the 19 suspected airplane hijackers from the attacks. Mueller said that he had "a fairly high level of confidence" that the FBI knew the real names of the hijackers, based on flight manifests and follow-up interviews." But while in Pennsylvania for a tour of the crash site there, he raised doubts about the accuracy of the identifications. "We have several hijackers whose identities were those of the names on the manifests," Mueller said. "We have several others that are still in question. The investigation is ongoing, and I am not certain as to several of the others."
At the time, officials refused to say how many hijackers may have used false identities, but "officials of the Saudi Arabian government said that six of the men that the United States has named as hijackers killed in the attacks appeared to be living in the Middle East. Furthermore, investigators believed that some of the 19 suspected hijackers may have stolen the identities of law-abiding Middle Easterners, further complicating the probe. Apparently, confusion over the identities of some of the terrorists is one reason authorities delayed putting out the photographs of the hijackers, as they had planned to do ASAP."
To this very day, the exact identities and nationalities of the alleged hijackers (or culprits at large) are still, scientifically speaking, unknown.
Lastly, when Omar stated that Muslims have been treated unfairly because of 9/11, who can deny her charge? From a steep rise in hate crimes targeting Muslims to job harassment and other forms of xenophobia in the culture, 9/11 has proven to be a nightmare for thousands of Muslims living in the United States. Omar's acknowledgment of this situation is hardly a controversial remark.
So where did she tell a falsehood? What did Omar say that was so inflammatory? Perhaps people were outraged because they don't want to hear an empowered Muslim woman speak at all? Perhaps they were so reactive to her statements about 9/11 because they do not want to talk about an episode in our nation's history that is so confusing and causes so much cognitive dissonance. Whatever the case, I do not see how she made a mistake and I do not see why she should ever apologize for talking about a historical tragedy that has impacted the lives of so many people she knows and cares about. If she cannot do that, then she has no business representing her state in Congress.
George Cassidy Payne is a writer and social justice activist from Rochester, NY.