Ilhan Omar
Credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

In January, the first two Muslim women will be sworn in as members of congress. Democrat Ilhan Omar will represent Minnesota’s 5th congressional district and Democrat Rashida Tlaib will represent Michigan’s 13th congressional district. This has obviously upset some Islamophobic right wingers.

Conservative pastor commentator E.W. Jackson went on an anti-Islamic tirade on his radio show Wednesday, complaining that Muslims are taking over Congress…

“The floor of Congress is now going to look like an Islamic republic,” Jackson said. “We are a Judeo-Christian country. We are a nation rooted and grounded in Christianity and that’s that. And anybody that doesn’t like that, go live somewhere else. It’s very simple. Just go live somewhere else. Don’t try to change our country into some sort of Islamic republic or try to base our country on Sharia law.”…

“The fact that we’re electing these people to Congress and electing them to office is just beyond the pale,” he said…“The threat to humanity is not merely radical Islam,” he added. “The threat to humanity is Islam, period. That’s right, I said it and I mean it.”

Jackson said all of that while claiming to support freedom of religion and the First Amendment, demonstrating that he’s not just Islamophobic – he’s ignorant.

Representative-elect Omar’s response was short and sweet.

But Omar and Tlaib are also under attack from leaders in several Middle Eastern countries.

Academics, media outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly accused Omar, Rashida Tlaib (another newly elected Muslim congresswoman), and Abdul El-Sayed (who made a failed bid to become governor of Michigan) of being secret members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are hostile to the governments of Saudi Arabia and the UAE. On Sunday, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya published a feature insinuating that Omar and Tlaib were part of an alliance between the Democratic Party and Islamist groups to control Congress. The article accused the two of being “anti-Trump and his political team and options, especially his foreign policy starting from the sanctions on Iran to the isolation of the Muslim Brotherhood and all movements of political Islam.”

The author of that piece, Ola Salem, goes on to speculate about why Muslim leaders in the Middle East would be so threatened by Muslim women being elected the serve in the U.S. congress.

The rise of politicians like El-Sayed, Omar, and Tlaib also undermines a core argument advanced by dictators in the Middle East: that their people are not ready for democracy. “People would not have access to power in their countries but they would if they leave; this destroys the argument by Sisi or bin Salman,” El-Sayed said, referring to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman…

American allies in the region also fear that the Democratic Party’s new Arab leaders will advocate for political change in their countries. Having spent millions of dollars for public relations campaigns in Western capitals, the Persian Gulf countries feel threatened by any policymakers with an independent interest in and knowledge of the region. They have thus framed these officials’ principled objections to regional violations of human rights and democratic norms as matters of personal bias.

Accusing Omar and Tlaib of “personal bias” and being members of the Muslim Brotherhood is another way that these critics sound very much like their anti-Islam counterparts in the U.S.

The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi regime has highlighted the extent to which the Trump administration is being compromised by their ties to that country. Put in the context of the fact that the Republican base is now primarily made up of white evangelical Christians who tend to be Islamophobic (as we see above with pastor Jackson), that would appear to create some strange bedfellows.

However, the treatment of Omar and Tlaib demonstrates that the tie that binds all fundamentalist versions of major religions, regardless of the prophets they follow or the texts they revere: they are all based in authoritarianism. Anyone that strikes out in independence and veers from the “established order” will be denounced by any means necessary. If that sounds a lot like the current occupant of the White House, you’re starting to get the picture.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.