Much of Trump’s career has been fueled by 9/11-related conspiracies, and the anti-Muslim sentiment that has grown because of them. Trump spread the false claim that Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks. He suggested that former President Barack Obama might be a secret Muslim. One of his signature policies, a ban on immigrants and refugees from several predominantly Muslim countries, was widely perceived to be connected to past, inflammatory comments such as “I think Islam hates us.”
In the years following the September 11 attacks, as Trump was pushing conspiracies, equal and opposite effects were happening among American Muslims: a growing sense of fear, an urgent desire to distance themselves from violence, and, for some, a resolve to get involved in public service. Above all, there emerged “a loyalty test, which demands that there be unequivocal denunciation of all these horrible tragedies,” as Daisy Khan, a prominent Muslim speaker and advocate, described it to me.
Starting in 2009, Khan, along with her husband, Feisal Abdul Rauf, an imam, advocated for the creation of an interfaith Islamic community center near the site of the destroyed Twin Towers, a project dubbed by opponents the “Ground Zero mosque.”
The backlash was swift. “We were told, ‘Not you, not here, not now,’” Khan said. That experience—the way Muslims were pushed out of the collective American mourning process for 9/11—reminds her of what’s happening now with Omar. It’s “the weaponizing of 9/11,” she said. “Back then, we had just a handful of people on the streets who were part of a network of people who had been fed a lot of disinformation” about their project and about Muslims. “Now it’s … the most powerful man in the world.”
The loyalty test has not gone away, she added: “I think this is what Representative Omar forgot … The test, the burden, the cross that we have to bear is that at all times, we have to make sure we are voicing [condemnation of terrorism], saying it loud and clear.” (Omar’s office could not be reached for comment.)
[Peter Beinart: Ilhan Omar’s deeply American message]
Omar seems to disagree with this approach to being a Muslim leader in public life. In other parts of her speech, which was delivered in March at an annual banquet for the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, the congresswoman rejected the notion that American Muslims should bend over backwards to seem unthreatening. “Muslims, for a really long time in this country, have been told that there is a privilege that we are given, and it might be taken away,” she said. “We are told that we should be appropriate. We should go to school, get an education, raise our children, and not bother anyone … Be a good Muslim.”
But even with all of this work, she said at the time, Muslims have been denied their civil liberties. So she proposed a new model of Muslim political engagement. “I say, Raise hell,” she said. “Make people uncomfortable.”