by J. Pharoah Doss, For New Pittsburgh Courier
It’s been an unruly couple of weeks.
First, Democratic Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, accused her first-term colleagues, Democratic representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Ilhan Omar, of being unreasonable popularity seekers instead of serious policymakers. Then the freshman congresswomen, known as the squad, accused the speaker of attacking them because they are women of color.
Was the speaker a racist? Or was the squad too extreme?
A line of demarcation was drawn between Democrats left of center and the democratic far-left. (This is a conflict of worldviews that shouldn’t be viewed as just internal bickering.) But just as Democrats started to side with the speaker, President Donald Trump made a comment that erased the dividing line and united the Democratic Party around the squad.
President Trump said the squad should go back and fix the broken and crime-infested places they came from. (Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, and Pressley were born in the United States, Rep. Omar is a Somalian refugee who immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s and is a naturalized American citizen.)
The Democrats called the president’s comments xenophobic, and President Trump replied, “So sad to see Democrats sticking up for people who speak so badly of our country…Whenever confronted, they (the squad) call their adversaries, including Nancy Pelosi, racist. Their disgusting language…And the many terrible things they say about the United States must not be allowed to go unchallenged.”
Then, at a rally in North Carolina, President Trump singled out Somali-born representative Ilhan Omar and claimed she minimized the 9/11 attacks, supported Al-Qaeda, and called her un-American. The crowd roared and revised their infamous anti-Hillary Clinton “Lock her up” chant into a vicious anti-immigrant taunt of— “Send her back!”
Of course, the speaker, the others in the squad, the Democratic presidential candidates and fair-minded conservatives condemned the “Send her back!” chant.
But Rep. Omar quoted poet Maya Angelou in response. Rep. Omar tweeted: “You may shoot me down with your words/ You may cut me with your eyes/ You may kill me with your hatefulness/ But still, like air, I rise.”
Many felt Rep. Omar channeled the advice of former first lady Michelle Obama, who famously said, “When they go low, we go high.” But Rep. Omar’s poetic response was deeper than that.
It had ancestral significance.
Representative Omar’s homeland is known as the Nation of Poets. Jay Bahadur published a book on Somalia in 2011. Bahadur wrote: “Throughout their history the Somali poet was counted on to defend a clan’s honor. They used poems of persuasion in lieu of weapons to settle disputes, but in the 20th century times changed. Both the English and the Italians attempted to colonized them. The Europeans introduced guns into battle, although Somalia valiantly refused to succumb, the scars of war never relented. Somalia’s recent civil war had caused over a million people to flee to neighboring countries as refugees. Those who stayed faced droughts, floods, famine, feuding clan battles, and Jihad.”
In 2010 this headline appeared online: Somali artists use words to fight extremism. The article explained that Al-Shabaab (a Jihadist terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda) have waged an “unholy war” against the internationally recognized Somali government, and Al-Shabaab recruits “youngsters as foot soldiers and brainwashes many others to carry out suicide bombings.”
But a group of artists, comprised of a dozen teenagers from Somalia, including two former child soldiers turned musicians, use poetic songs to pass this message to the youth in Somalia: Beware of Al-Shabaab and other militant groups who are out to exploit you.
Representative Omar’s poetic response was a clever homage to her homeland, and the homegrown “Send her back!” shouters sunk American political discourse into a deeper state of deplorability.
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