WASHINGTON - U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar struck a chord with other Muslim Americans when she denounced a perceived assumption that she is reluctant to condemn or sympathetic to terrorism and atrocities committed by Islamic groups.
"Does this need to be on repeat every five minutes?" Omar asked during a Muslim Caucus Education Collective forum in Washington on Tuesday.
"So today, I forgot to condemn al-Qaida," she continued to resounding applause. "So here's the al-Qaida one. Today I forgot to condemn a FGM [female genital mutilation.] So there you go."
Muslim-American progressive activists at the conference said Omar's outrage mirrored their anger at having their values and loyalty constantly questioned.
"It was time for someone to say it and she finally did. And we are so proud and so honored to have her in Congress," said Yasmeen Obeid, a Palestinian-American community activist from San Diego, California.
Female genital mutilation
Omar was responding to a question about FGM from Ani Zonneveld, president of Muslims for Progressive Values. She asked the Minnesota lawmaker to join with fellow Muslim Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib from Michigan to condemn the practice, in light of a Detroit judge's ruling last November overturning a federal law that made FGM a crime.
FGM involves the ritual cutting of part or all of a girl or woman's genitals, a traditional practice often associated with Islam. The World Health Organization, or WHO, estimates that 200 million girls and women in 30 countries have undergone FGM. It is most pervasive in Muslim-majority countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Somalia, where Omar was born before she came to the U.S. as a refugee, has one of the highest FGM rates in the world.
The WHO says "FGM has no health benefits," can cause long-term urinary problems, pain during intercourse and lead to an increased risk of childbirth complications.
Numerous Muslim organizations, such the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (representing 53 Muslim-majority nations) have condemned FGM as a human rights violation against women and girls.
Congresswoman Omar has co-authored legislation with Representative Lois Frankel of Florida denouncing FGM and calling on the international community and federal government to step up efforts to eliminate the practice.
To some, Omar may have come across as overly defensive when she said she was "quite disgusted" to be asked to condemn FGM, which she has done many times, and to be pressed to address issues that non-Muslim legislators typically are not asked about.
But to many in the Muslim Caucus forum, Omar was pushing back against contrived and bigoted stereotypes of Muslims in America.
Amira Daugherty, a Muslim student activist from Stone Mountain, Georgia, said Congresswoman Omar was demanding to be treated "like every other morally-guided congressperson in the United States."
Omar's reply also followed repeated attacks on her character and patriotism by President Donald Trump and some of his supporters.
At a political rally in North Carolina last week, Trump said Omar "blamed the U.S. for terrorist attacks on our country" and ridiculed her for calling the extremists who carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks as "some people did something." The crowd at the rally responded by chanting, "Send her back."
The president was referring to a speech Omar made to the Council on American-Islamic Relations in March about discrimination against Muslims, in which she said the group "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."
Omar stirred controversy in February when she tweeted, "It's all about the Benjamins" — a reference to U.S. hundred dollar bills, suggesting that financial contributions from Jewish Americans help dictate U.S. support for Israel. She later apologized after being rebuked by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Women of color
The Minnesota Democrat, along with Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, all congresswomen of color, have been the recent focus of criticism from President Trump, who first tweeted they should go back where they came from.
Many of Trump's verbal attacks on the congresswomen, analysts say, are intentionally inflammatory and meant to energize Trump's predominantly white and Christian supporters ahead of next year's presidential elections.