Her speech was covered live. It generated no blowback upon delivery. Then, this month, an Australian imam stripped one of her remarks from its context and tweeted, “Ilhan Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack on the USA by terrorists, instead she refers to it as ‘Some people did something,’ then she goes on to justify the establishment of a terrorist organization (CAIR) on US soil.”
CAIR is not, in fact, a terrorist organization. Anyone with third-grade reading comprehension can review Omar’s clumsy words and see that they do not, in fact, assert that 9/11 wasn’t a terrorist attack, nor that its perpetrators were not terrorists. Arriving at the opposite conclusion requires interpreting Omar’s words in a manner that is both implausible and willfully optimized for offense-taking.
Nevertheless, Representative Dan Crenshaw retweeted the imam’s remarks, seizing a chance for a woke callout and the expression of disdainful outrage. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,’” he wrote. “Unbelievable.”
What’s “unbelievable” about imperfect extemporaneous speech?
There was no reason to suspect that Omar holds any objectionable views about 9/11. Crenshaw was opportunistically drawing attention to an unintentionally problematic word choice, like an “SJW” filing a frivolous complaint about a microaggression. He needlessly drew attention to an inartful locution on an emotionally fraught topic. And he was not the worst offender.
“You have to wonder if she’s an American first,” said Brian Kilmeade on Fox News. Yet in the very same speech, Omar said quite clearly, “I know as an American, as an American member of Congress, I have to make sure 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.” Plucking one phrase from a longer speech in order to question her allegiance to this country—even while failing to mention passages directly relevant to that question that cut in the opposite direction—is exactly the sort of wild, dishonest extrapolation properly seen as political-correctness-gone-wild when done to, say, Jordan Peterson.
Indeed, it is easy to imagine a populist-right commentator declaring: Donald Trump supporters are right to mistrust the media. After Charlottesville, we realized that whenever some people somewhere in America do something, we’re going to be considered guilty by association. There would be clearer, more eloquent ways to convey the intended sentiment, but its meaning would nevertheless be easy to discern. Most on the right would understandably suspect bad faith if that mildly clumsy statement was cast by an opinion journalist as an attempt to minimize the odiousness of neo-Nazis or to diminish the horror of Heather Heyer’s murder.