Removal of Omar from Key Committee Sparks Mixed Reaction

Somali Americans living in the United States have mixed reactions to the removal of congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat, from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Republican-led House of Representatives removed Omar from the panel Thursday after her past anti-Israel comments.

"We're not removing her from other committees," House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters. "We just do not believe when it comes to foreign affairs, especially with the responsibility of that position around the world, with the comments that you make, she shouldn't serve there.”

The removal prompted rebukes and accusations of bigotry from Democrats.

Republicans said the action made a strong statement against antisemitism but Omar, other Democrats and the White House said it was revenge after the Democrat-held House majority ousted two Republicans from their committees in 2020.

Omar suggested she was kicked out because she is a Muslim woman who immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee.

"I am Muslim. I am an immigrant. And interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted?" Omar said in an emotional floor speech Thursday immediately ahead of the vote, displaying a photo of her younger self on a poster board beside her.

Political revenge

Speaking to VOA, Somali Americans have expressed alarm at the decision, describing it as “political revenge” after they said that Omar stood up and strongly opposed the GOP and allies of former president Donald Trump.

Most of them rallied in a fiery defense of Omar.

"It's a black day for Muslim Americans, immigrants and people of color," said Hashi Shafi, executive director of the Somali Action Alliance, a Minneapolis-based community organization. “We learned a lesson from it. Omar had served well for Muslims, the voiceless, the people of color and her constituency as well, and we hope she comes back."

Saeed Ibrahim Cagmadhige, a business owner in Columbus, Ohio, said the decision was expected.

“She stood up to Trump, she was outspoken about Israel, a country protected by the U.S., so her removal was expected," Cagmadhige said. "We Somalis are sorry. I hope that she returns to this committee or other higher positions in the future."

Khadra Mohamed Shire, a member of the Somali community in Ohio, said this is “anti-American” and will damage the credibility of the U.S.

“GOP and Trump targeted Omar because she is someone who often speaks about the wrong thing on U.S. foreign policy,” said Shire.

Accused of making mistakes

Some Somali Americans said they welcome the removal of Omar from the foreign affairs panel, accusing her of making a lot of mistakes.

"It seems that she is mainly responsible for her removal, and there are reasons why she has so few friends in Congress," Abdirishaq Sheikh Ali, a member of Somali Americans in Ohio told VOA. "I'm sorry, but I believe she is to blame for such a vote that led to her ... to be removed from the panel."

Abdulkadir Haji, a supporter of the Republican Party who unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the Ohio Legislature, said the move by his party to kick Omar off the panel was unnecessary.

"It was ugly, I didn't recommend that the speaker would have done something like that. [It was a] Waste of time. We have other issues in front of us, including inflation, high gas prices, and the war in Ukraine, which need to be addressed. It was not better to waste time on Omar.”

Omar, who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress in 2018. She is the first African-born, and the first to wear a hijab in the House chamber.

Omar arrived in the United States in the 1990s as a refugee.

Most Somali Americans, who largely live in Minnesota and Ohio, support the Democratic Party but Republicans also have been courting communities of color in Minnesota, including the Somalis.

Source: Voice of America