Letter: We should judge others on character, not race or religion

A person holds a letter with the text "letter to the editor" overlaid on the image.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is a dark-skinned Muslim immigrant. She embodies much of what President Trump has vilified for the last three years, so it’s not surprising that her visibility and her determination to freely express herself have made her the target of intense criticism.

Suspicion of Muslims, sometimes evolving into scorn or outright hatred, was affecting the lives of Muslim Americans long before Trump began campaigning for the presidency, but his anti-Muslim rhetoric has, intentionally or not, intensified the acrimony.

Omar addressed those issues in a recent speech, referencing the increased violence against Muslims and noting that since 9/11 there are many who equate Muslim Americans with terrorists, a sort of guilt by association without the association, since most of the 9/11 attackers were Saudis.

She disputed the notion that the Muslim community should keep a low profile and “not make anyone uncomfortable.”

“We have a right to a dignified existence,” she said, encouraging her Muslim audience to stay “strong and resilient.”


Referring to discrimination against Muslims since 9/11, she commented that “some people did something,” and “all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Predictably, critics chose not to respond to the substance of her speech, seizing on just four out-of-context words to demonize her as un-American or worse. Meanwhile, the president, certainly aware that Omar’s life had recently been threatened by a Trump supporter, tweeted a video of the her, interspersed with images of the 9/11 attack, insinuating a terrorist connection and further endangering her life.


I recall a time when it was an American value to judge others on quality of character, not race or religion; and mindful of that, I want to express my admiration for Omar’s courage and candor. I applaud the encouragement that she gives to the Muslim community to stand firm and demand their civil liberties and their rightful place in American society.
I wholeheartedly concur with her criticism of the Netanyahu government in Israel for human right’s violations against those who live under Israeli subjugation in the occupied territories. If you review the 2019 Human Rights Watch report on Palestine and Israel, you might begin to understand her concern.

Accused of anti-Semitism, she apologized for insensitive word choices but defended the accuracy of her comments. It’s not an affront to the Jewish faith to criticize the Israeli government, nor is it anti-Jewish to suggest that AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, together with other pro-Israeli groups, exert undue influence over U.S. foreign policy. The Open Secrets website reports that pro-Israeli groups spent $14.8 million in the 2018 midterms to reinforce seemingly unconditional Congressional support for Israel.

In the final analysis, agreeing or disagreeing with Omar isn’t the issue. The issue is whether an American citizen and a member of Congress, regardless of her race or religion, has the right, even the obligation, to question government policies and the influences which determine those policies- without fearing for her life.

By Allen Erickson of Fargo

What To Read Next
Get Local