In the summer of 2016, when Donald Trump was still just the Republican nominee for president, the American Muslim father of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq launched a scathing critique of Trump’s vow to bar Muslims from the U.S. Standing with his wife Ghazala by his side at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Khizr Khan rebuked Trump by offering to lend him a copy of the U.S. Constitution. “You have sacrificed nothing and no one,” an emotional Khan said.
Asked to comment, Trump — in a move we have now come to expect — deflected by way of attack. "His wife… if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say,” Trump said. "She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”
At the time, I rolled my eyes at Trump’s lazy cliché of a submissive and silenced Muslim woman. It was typical of the campaign that he ran: racist, misogynist and ignorant. But now, I like to think that Trump’s words conjured a hex. I like to imagine a coven of us American-Muslim women working together to bring about Trump’s worst nightmare: not one but two Muslim women — each with plenty to say — elected to the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib, from Michigan’s 13th District, has vowed to walk onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives hand in hand with Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American who will be representing Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.
I have lost count of how many times I have said or written variations of the following: Muslim women are not monolithic. We are more than our headscarves. Now at last I can point to Tlaib and Omar as examples of this truth.
Neither woman wasted any time in relishing their victory. And why should they?
An estimated 135 million people from seven countries, five of which are Muslim-majority, remain affected by Trump’s travel ban, which the Supreme Court upheld in June.
In her victory speech, Omar — who came to the U.S. as a child refugee — also took jabs at Trump’s agenda: “Here in Minnesota, we don’t only welcome immigrants; we send them to Washington,” she said to loud cheers from her supporters.
Both Tlaib and Omar also ran on the kind of progressive platforms that propelled other women of color to electoral victories across the country in the midterms. Tlaib for example, focused on issues like a $15 minimum wage, Medicare For All and reducing student debt. Omar’s Twitter bio describes her as an “intersectional feminist.”
Honestly, though, I celebrate Rashida and Ilhan for far more personal reasons. Finally, finally, us American-Muslim women can be complicated! In a selfie that Tlaib has posted of the two of them, Rashida has her hair up in a ponytail and Ilhan is wearing a brown headscarf.
It reminds me of dozens of selfies I have taken with my sister, who like Ilhan wears hijab. By merely existing next to each other, juxtaposed, Rashida and Ilhan complicate perceptions of Muslim women in a country where many people view us through much the same lens as the one that colored Trump’s assumptions of Ghazala Khan.
But Tlaib and Omar complicate more than just the optics of Muslim women. At a time when the patriarchal voting patterns of white American women are finally being scrutinized, these two progressive women of color represent the opposite. I am not embarrassed to say that I am enjoying the Schadenfreude.
Indeed I have lost count of the times I’ve been asked, mostly by white people, why Muslim women submit to misogyny, as if patriarchy and the misogyny it protects and enables is the sole property of Muslims and not a glolal social construct.
So now, in the spirit of flipping the House, I am flipping the narrative. Why do Republican white women submit to misogyny? Or to paraphrase Trump, maybe they weren’t allowed to vote any other way? Exit polls from election night show that in three key races in Florida, Texas and Georgia, the majority of white women voters chose Republican candidates over progressive Democratic opponents.
Perhaps the most frustrating example of this is in the still too-close-to-call race for governor in Georgia, where CNN exit polls report that slightly more white women than men chose the Republican candidate Brian Kemp over his opponent, Stacey Abrams, a progressive black female candidate. Was it internalized misogyny? Was it racism? (Spoiler: It was both.)
But who indoctrinated those Republican white women? Who taught them to submit to patriarchy? Those are questions often reserved for Muslim women but I demand we ask them now of white women — whose votes uphold the benefits of whiteness but hurt the rest of us.
So now, in the spirit of flipping the House, I am flipping the narrative. Why do Republican white women submit to misogyny?
White women are, by nature of their skin color, rarely pathologized or othered in the way that Muslim women are. Their acquiescence to patriarchy — I have long called them foot soldiers of the patriarchy — is rarely posited as indoctrination. Instead, it is portrayed as their choice. And yet, I guarantee that those very same Republican white women are quick to lament the plight of Muslim women and eagerly point to Islam as a source misogyny, refusing to subject their Christian beliefs to a similar reckoning.
Tlaib and Omar complicate all of that.
A few days after Trump’s remarks about Ghazala Khan, an American-Muslim woman, along with 12 other women, disrupted a speech Trump was giving in Detroit.
“American, parent, Muslim, Arab-American, and woman. As I thought about my identities, I felt more and more that confronting Trump was the most patriotic and courageous act I could pursue,” she later said. That woman was Rashida Tlaib. She is now the first Palestinian-American woman to join the U.S. Congress.
In November 2016, during a campaign stop in Minnesota, Trump said the state had “suffered enough” at the hands of Somali immigrants, and suggested that Somalis were sneaking into the state and spreading extremist views. On Tuesday, 78 percent of Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District voted to make Ilhan Omar the first Somali American, first Muslim refugee and first hijab-wearing Muslim woman elected to Congress. Racking up one more "first," she will also become the first woman of color to represent Minnesota in Congress.
When Ilhan Omar says, “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare,” I say Amen, sister.