Washington DC – A new Republican storm has arisen around a member of the American Congress Ilhan Omar – this time because of alleged statements she made during a speech to Somali Americans.
The only problem, according to two independent analyzes of the speech, is that the words that fueled the uproar appear to have been mistranslated.
Omar is accused of saying in Somali that she would put foreign interests ahead of those of the United States – but several media outlets have since refuted those accusations, pointing out major flaws in a viral translation of her speech.
This, however, did not stop the incendiary representative Marjorie Taylor Greene to take control of the discourse. On Thursday, she introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives to censure Omar, who is the first Somali American and the first former African refugee to serve in the U.S. Congress.
Greene accused Omar of “serving as a foreign agent for a foreign country.” In a seemingly intentional gaffe, she referred to Omar as a representative of “Somalia – I mean Minnesota.”
His resolution comes a day after House Majority Whip Tom Emmer called for an ethics investigation into Omar. Florida Governor and former Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis also called for Omar’s “expulsion.”
For his part, Omar quickly dismissed the attacks, saying they were just the latest attempt by Republicans to weaponize his ethnicity and religion.
In a statement to the Minnesota Star Tribune, Omar called the attacks “not only completely false, but they are rooted in xenophobia and Islamophobia.”
“This is a fabricated controversy, based on an inaccurate translation and completely out of context,” she said.
Critics also view the controversy as the Republican Party’s latest attempt to attack a group of progressive Democrats known as the “Squad.”
In February 2023, Omar was deleted of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a vote divided along party lines, amid accusations that she used “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Israeli” rhetoric. At the time, Omar said she was targeted because of her identity as an African Muslim woman.
In November, the Chamber also voted for censorship Rep. Rashida Tlaib for her critical comments about Israel. Tlaib stood by her comments, rejecting allegations that they were anti-Semitic.
Poorly translated speech
The Star Tribune – a newspaper based in Minneapolis, Minnesota – and another publication, the Minnesota Reformer, both independently translated Omar’s speech, which was delivered to the state’s Somali Americans on January 27.
Both noted that the words that stoked Republican anger were not actually those spoken by Omar.
The mistranslation, widely shared on social media, read: “The US government will only do what Somalis in the US tell them to do. They will do what we want and nothing else. They must follow our orders, and that is how we will protect Somalia’s interests…Together, we will protect Somalia’s interests.
According to the more accurate translation, verified by the Star Tribune, Omar expressed a different message, encouraging civic engagement among Somali Americans.
“My response was that the U.S. government will do what we tell it to do. As Somalis, we should have this confidence in ourselves. We live in this country. We pay taxes in this country. This is a country where one of your own is in Congress…The woman you sent to Congress knows you and has the same interests as you,” she said.
.@RepJeffries: “This week we continue to see political performances and political stunts from our Republican colleagues.”
-CSPAN (@cspan) February 1, 2024
According to the Star Tribune, Omar used her speech to recount how she responded to her constituents’ concerns about a new agreement between Ethiopia and the autonomous region of Somaliland, which Somalia claims as its own. The deal would see Ethiopia lease part of Somaliland’s coastline, a move Somalia vehemently opposes.
Observers noted that the congressman also spoke in support of long-standing U.S. policy. The United States has some ties to Somaliland – but does not recognize its independence or authority to unilaterally strike a deal with landlocked Ethiopia.
Although the stance drew condemnation from Somaliland officials, Democrats roundly rejected the notion that this indicates that Omar is working on behalf of Somalia or that she is putting her Somali roots ahead of her congressional duties.
On Thursday, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries condemned Greene’s decision to censure Omar as “frivolous.” He called it “designed to inflame, castigate and divide us further.”