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In context: ‘Some people did something’

Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan April 14, 2019

President Donald Trump, other Republicans and the New York Post have seized on a line from a speech given by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., several weeks ago that they say diminishes 9/11.

Omar was speaking about discrimination faced by Muslims and their responsibility to stand up for their own rights. She spoke on March 23, 2019, at the Council of American-Islamic Relations of Greater Los Angeles' fourth annual Valley Banquet in Woodland Hills, California. The line — that CAIR "recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties" — is about two-thirds of the way into the speech.

Here is Omar’s speech, transcribed from YouTube. She began by asking for the stage lights to be adjusted.

"Salam alaikum (hello), everyone. I also want the light so I could see your beautiful faces. I am truly, truly, truly honored for the opportunity to be here with all of you. It's been a really hard week for the Muslim community. And I feel extremely lucky to to be here in California with all of you — fighting for justice, for equality, for the right for us to equally exist in this country.

"Many people expect our community to feel like it needs to hide every time something happens. But repeatedly, we have shown them that we are not to be bullied. We are not to be threatened. We are not to be terrorized. We are strong, resilient and we will always show up to be ourselves, because we know we have a right to a dignified existence and a dignified life.

"The other thing that is exciting to me to be in this room is that there are very fascinating people outside, who, for so many years, have spoken about an Islam that is oppressive, an Islam that lessens and isolates its women, and today they gather outside to protest a Muslim woman who is in Congress. I mean the irony, the irony in that is very entertaining to me.

"I know many of them drove miles to get here, spent a lot of energy and resources and money to purchase the signs that they have. But I don't think any of them realize that people like myself and many of the people in this room can care less about what they have to say, because we know who we are and where we belong and what we stand for.

"So we are coming off a tragic, tragic nightmare that has happened to Muslims in New Zealand. Many of us know that this is not a one-off incident. Many of us were not shocked or surprised. Many of us were kind of holding our breath for a really long time thinking when will something like this happen. Because many of us have experienced threats in our mosques, in our schools, even for our individual leaders. Many of us have witnessed bombings of mosques. Many of us have seen mosques set on fire. Many people, a few years ago, watched in horror as gunmen showed up to Irving, Texas, at a mosque, threatening Muslims. So, we all, we all kind of knew that this was happening.

"But the reason I think that many of us knew that this was going to get worse is that we finally have a leader, a world leader, in the White House, who publicly says Islam hates us, who fuels hate against Muslims, who thinks it is okay to speak about a faith and a whole community in a way that is dehumanizing, vilifying, and doesn't understand — or at least makes us want to think that he doesn't understand — the consequences that his words might have.

"Some people like me know that he understands the consequences. He knows that there are people that he can influence to threaten our lives, to diminish our presence.

"But what we know, and what Islam teaches us, and what I always say, is that love trumps hate. Every time we feel threatened, we show up with love, and others stand with us in solidarity. We have seen that with the Muslim ban, a very hateful policy that has now been fully implemented, one that is going to leave a stain in our nation's history. When the ban was first announced Muslims across this country rushed out to stand against it and everyone else in all of our communities showed up alongside us.

"We also know that when this last shooting happened, even though leaders, non-Muslim leaders, said people should not go to Jumu'ah (Friday) prayers, people should not show up at their mosques, we knew, we knew that the only way we will continue is for all of us to show up. And even if you were not planning on going to Jumu'ah prayer that Friday, you were going to Jumu'ah prayer. And we knew that others within our communities will also show up. Because that is how it works. Once you are willing to stand up for yourself, once you recognize what your rights are, what you should be entitled to, then others will show up for you.

"Liberation, it's not an external thing. It's an internal thing. People always say to me, how have you gotten empowered? And I say I was born this way. It is not about how others make us feel. It is what we tell ourselves, that we are worthy. So when you know, as a Muslim, that advancing justice is very inherent in you, when you know as a Muslim our faith’s initial foundations were built by a prophet who was vilified, had stones and fruit and all kind of things thrown at him, a prophet who had to make a pilgrimage and leave his home, then you know that when Ilhan is facing some controversy, that that is not something to be afraid of.

"We might be headed to the promised land of speaking the truth and finding our external liberty once we internally liberate ourselves. Muslims for a really long time in this country have been told that there is a privilege that we are given and that 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. (Aside) You can clap for that. So the truth is you can go to school and be a good student. You can listen to your dad and mom and become a doctor. You can have that beautiful wedding that makes Mom and Dad happy. You can buy that beautiful house. But none of that stuff matters if you one day show up to the hospital, and your wife, or maybe yourself, is having a baby and you can't have the access that you need because someone doesn’t recognize you as fully human. It doesn't matter how good you were if you can't have your prayer mat and take your 15-minute break to go pray in a country that was founded on religious liberty.

"No 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: For 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.

"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 go talk to them and ask them why. Because that is a right you have. (Editor's note: CAIR was actually founded in 1994.)

"So there are, there are people, and Hassan (Hassan Shibly, executive director of CAIR Florida, spoke the same evening) is on the right track, it's always good, right? I say you can't hate up close. You can't hate up close. Anytime you have an opportunity to go talk to someone, the chances of them hating you lessens. So that is a practice we should all adopt.

"But the one thing that is always been very fascinating to me — and Hassan and I were talking about this before I came down here — is that there are always these folks who have ayat (Koranic verses) prepared in their head, as part of their talking points, and I don't think, I mean I'm not a hafiz (someone who has memorized the Koran), I don't know. I don't know what chapter 4:135 says in the Koran. Any Muslim in here know what that is? No? Okay … that's expected, I suppose, but it goes right into they're always quoting these ayat numbers, and I'm like, I really don't know, let me get back to you. I don't even know how to google that yet. But there was a woman — again we're not going to mention — and she was talking to Hassan outside. He went to go talk to her, because Hassan is brave like that. And so in their conversation she's like saying all of these chapter numbers, and ayat numbers, verse numbers, and chapter numbers, and I thought about (it), and I said, you know, we should like just kind of do that. I started a practice and I'm hoping Muslims who were elected around the country would just do this. I tweet out verses of the Koran. I say salam alaikum (peace), and alhamdulillah (praise be God) and I'll tweet back at people astaghfirullah (sorry). I mean, I'm trying to make sure that people are googling these words. I never really put the definition there, because I want them to get comfortable as they google what what they mean. So, I was thinking that I should think about maybe some ayats that kind of explain why someone like me exists.

"To me it is really important because there is not enough conversation rooted in the fact that advocacy, fighting for justice, standing up for what is right, is very inherently Islamic.

"So for those of you who want to google this ayat, it's in chapter 4:135. And I'll paraphrase it: This ayat says that as Muslims we are called on, right, to stand up for justice and to speak the truth, even if it is against ourselves, our parents, and our close relatives.

"If Hassan was up here, he would probably say in Arabic, but I'm a work in progress, so that's all I’ve got.

"And so when people you know are having these conversations with me and they say you know, Ilhan, why do you criticize Muslims who were doing something? What is your problem with Arab countries, why are you always talking about this particular country and you're not talking about that particular country? My choice of a country to talk about, it's not my preference of country, it is based on what country is violating basic human rights.

"So it doesn't matter if that country is being run by my father, my brother, my sister, I will still criticize that country because I know every country is capable of living up to their best. Every leader has the ability to lead with compassion, to lead with justice. So it is important for us to recognize that and to make sure that we're not only holding people that we don't like accountable. We must also hold those that we love, have shared values with, accountable.

"And so I am again very grateful to have the opportunity to be in a room like this, with all of you. As an elected Muslim in Congress I feel the weight of responsibility that I have, to not live up to the name of being a Muslim but live up to the ideals of what it means to be a Muslim.

"And I know as an American member of Congress, I have to make sure that I am living up to the ideals of fighting for liberty and justice. Those are very much rooted in the reason why my family came here.

"And so, regardless of how hard Washington might get for me, or your neighborhoods might get for you, you have to always remember that we have a mission as humans to love one another, to care for our neighbors, to raise compassionate children, and to fully, every single day, show up and make sure that we are furthering justice.

"Thank you so much for having me, and have a great night."  

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Needs full context
CAIR "recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties."
a speech
Saturday, March 23, 2019
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U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., delivers remarks at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, via YouTube, March 23, 2019

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In context: ‘Some people did something’