By Hamid Dabashi
27 Jan 2019
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were sworn into Congress on January 3, 2019
[File: Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo]
"Saudi Arabia Declares War on
America's Muslim Congresswomen," a title ran in Foreign Policy magazine
recently, where we find out: "Gulf Arab monarchies are using racism,
bigotry, and fake news to denounce Washington's newest history-making
politicians." This is serious business.
The two Muslim women at the centre of
attention of the Saudi propaganda machinery are Palestinian American Rashida
Tlaib, the newly elected US representative for Michigan's 13th congressional
district, and Somali American Ilhan Omar, newly elected US representative for
Minnesota's 5th congressional district.
Naturally, many racist conservatives in the
United States were upset with the election of two Muslim women to the US
Congress, and their run-of-the-mill xenophobia was expected. But the vitriol
Saudi-affiliated media outlets and commentators spewed was indeed something
So, why would the Saudis, or any other
tyranny in the Arab and Muslim world whose very existence is dependent on the
benevolent generosity of the US military, pick up a fight with these two newly
elected members of the US Congress?
Aren't the Saudis "the Custodians of
the Two Noble Sanctuaries", as they call and thus congratulate themselves?
Aren't they supposed to be protectors and supporters of all Muslims around the
According to the FP, "academics, media
outlets, and commentators close to Persian Gulf governments have repeatedly
accused Omar, Rashida Tlaib … 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."
So, there you have it, the catchword: the
The Bugbear of the Muslim
he rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the US
as a scary monster predates the brief fortune of leading member and deposed
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. In the Arab world, however, it was in the
aftermath of the Arab Spring that the ruling regimes of Bahrain, Egypt, Syria,
Saudi Arabia, and the UAE considered it their number one enemy. Because of
Hamas (considered a branch of the organisation), Israel, too, joined these Arab
states in their shared fear and loathing of political Islam. Through a
deliberate and sanctioned ignorance, these governments are reducing the entire
spectrum of resistance to their tyrannies to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Saudi Arabia and its allies, the UAE and
Egypt in particular, have launched a vicious and indeed deadly campaign against
the organisation. But this is not why they have come after the two US
Another article published on the MinnPost
explains: "Saudi loyalists aren't wrong that Omar is a persistent critic
of the Saudi regime. Recently, she's
condemned the kingdom over two crises that are drawing international scrutiny
to the secretive regime: the war in Yemen, and the death of journalist Jamal
Thus for their outspokenness and open
criticism, Omar and Tlaib are perceived as what Professor Mahmoud Mamdani of
Columbia University calls "bad Muslims" in his remarkable study and
subsequent book. By contrast, good Muslims - the ones Saudi Arabia et al like -
are those silently watching it massacre Yemenis and cut Khashoggi to pieces
while rushing to make ticket reservations for their Hajj pilgrimage.
Noting these vicious attacks against these
young Muslim lawmakers in the new US Congress, Professor Mohammad H Fadel of
the University of Toronto pointed out a crucial issue: "The shocking
willingness to attack Muslim-Americans and Arab-Americans and embrace American
Islamophobia reveal a deeper and more depressing state of affairs between the
Arab world and its expatriates."
But why should Saudis and their allies be
afraid of Muslim Americans? Well, they fear the Khashoggi effect - too many
Muslims exposing and criticising tyranny.
If America Could Be Beautiful
While the Saudis and their allies are
scared witless of just two Muslim women, there are strong indications that more
will be joining Congress in the coming years.
The 116th Congress, of which Omar and Tlaib
are now members, is the most diverse in US history, with a record number of
Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans and the first Muslim and Native
American women to serve.
Before that, the 115th Congress, and before
it, the 114th, were also considered most diverse in US history.
Increasing diversity of political
representation in the US is a clear trend and Muslim Americans are very much
part of it. Currently, there are some 3.4 million Muslims living in the US
(just over one percent of the US population), but the young generation among
them is emerging as exceptionally engaged in the public and political
The majority of Muslim Americans (76
percent) are first or second-generation immigrants, many of them (or their
parents) hail from lands that suffer under despotic rulers. The Muslim American
youth, being politically active at home, is also very much vocal about the
tyranny in their homelands (just like Omar and Tlaib are, and just like
Khashoggi attempted to be), readily exposing the deep corruption and the evil
banalities of the regimes that rule them.
And this is what is scaring, not just the
Saudi elites, but also the Egyptian, the Emirati, the Iranian, etc regimes in
the Arab and Muslim worlds which detest freedom of expression. They would very
much like these outspoken Muslim Americans back home where they can arrest,
jail, torture, and murder them in peace.
Muslims living in the US are emerging as a
peculiar vintage. Their small number is not a significant portion of the
population but their cumulative resistance to the diabolical Islamophobia that
is coming their way in their adopted country is making them stronger citizens
of a fragile democracy.
This historic opportunity has turned
Muslims living in the US (but also in Canada, Europe, and Australia), where
they face daily racist xenophobia, stronger agents in their respective
histories, and as such, they are serious threats to the countries of their origins
and the pathetic tyrants ruling them.
Today, not just Saudi Arabia, but equally
Iran, Egypt, Turkey, or Pakistan have lost their exclusive claims on what it
means to be a Muslim. Muslims around the globe who are not living under tyranny
have equal, if not larger, claims on their faith. The theological and political
implications of these small demographic changes are enormous. In this sense,
the hatred of the Saudis towards two Muslim American congresswomen is just the
tip of an iceberg.
The Saudi-Zionist Alliance
It is not accidental that the selfsame
Muslim women that the Saudis and their allies hate are targeted by the
propaganda machinery of major Zionist outlets, which defame and demonise them
because they take principled positions on Israel, criticising its policies and
supporting the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement.
The Saudi-Zionist alliance now runs deeply
into the heart of the Arab and Muslim world. Ruling regimes from Saudi Arabia
to Chad are putting all their eggs in the Zionist basket, hoping this would
ensure their survival. Bad move. The power of the Zionists over the US politics
is seriously challenged, and Muslims are part of a rising democratic will that
will include the democratic aspirations of Muslim nations in their
In addition to the Zionist-instigated
Islamophobia in Europe, Australia and North America, Muslims on these
continents face another abusive danger: Racist Islamophobes abusing legitimate
criticism of Arab and Muslim states in their warmongering schemes. The crucial
question of women's rights is particularly vulnerable to this abuse and is
often incorporated in the aggressive demonisation of not just the ruling
regimes (who are responsible for the violations of these rights) but the
entirety of Muslim and Arab cultures.
With Islamophobia from one side, bourgeois
feminism at the service of war machines on the other, and the Saudi-Zionist
alliance aiming to silence and kill voices of Muslim dissent, Muslim living in
the US and elsewhere have their work cut out for them.
There is no underestimating the
institutional and propaganda power of these nefarious forces. One must
celebrate the election of two Muslim women to the US Congress, but one should
not be too sanguine about their overnight success either. That the
Islamophobes, xenophobes, the Saudis and their regional allies are alarmed is a
good sign, but the battles ahead are mighty and mean. After all, for every
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib in the US Congress there is a platoon of Nancy Pelosis
and Chuck Schumers in the back pockets of regressive, Islamophobic and Zionist
Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and
Comparative Literature at Columbia University.