Civil War, a New Home & Challenges of Motherhood: What Ilhan Omar Learned from What She Survived




Omar began to doubt her marriage, her family and even her relationship with her kids. Some days she would hug them tight, while other days she couldn't bring herself "to interact with them, let alone embrace them," she writes.

By the summer of 2008, Omar and Hirsi were estranged and divorced religiously, though not legally. (In the Islamic custom, he just had to declare that their marriage was over.)

Omar shaved her head. She then moved out of state with her kids so she could attend North Dakota State University. Originally she planned to get a bachelor's in nutrition, she writes.

Instead, she realized her interest in politics and switched to international studies and political science. After a year of separation from her family, and a trip back to Somalia with her father, Omar began to truly process her past and what centered her as a person for the first time. She was also able to reunite with Hirsi. (They had their third child, Ilwad, in 2012.)

"The breakdown of my marriage, like that of my relationships with other family members, was a direct result of my unresolved conflict over the fact that while people and places I loved had been destroyed, I had survived," Omar writes in This Is What America Looks Like. "I had to learn to forgive myself and fully accept the woman I had become, before Ahmed and anyone else could do the same." 

Professionally, there were other challenges: She writes how she was attacked verbally and even physically because of her identity as a black Muslim woman. She remembers in her memoir once getting a concussion after she was punched and hit at a rally.

Unabashedly progressive, Omar has been a target of conservatives since her election. Her politics — including pro-Palestinian views in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, what she says were missteps when talking about Israel and her vocal support of other left-wing policies — have sometimes drawn wider criticism.

In her book, she also addresses ugly conspiracy theories that sprang out of simple facts.

She did apply for a marriage license in 2002 and again in 2009 (when she eloped during her first split with Hirsi), she writes. But tabloids used these facts to support a theory that Omar illegally married her brother to get him into the U.S. — an idea she has called "absurd and offensive."

"It's heartbreaking for someone like me, who is not only private but sees themselves as a fighter, to feel stuck in my notoriety. That I can't really fully fight my way out of this one," Omar says. "The constant battle of figuring out which fight to pick and minimizing certain damages to my father's sanity, has been the most difficult part of this journey."

She continues: "I was raised by a very prideful man who's raised his daughter to be prideful. To know that I put him in a place which he can't defend me and where I can't also defend myself is … it's like being hostage to your status and to your position and notoriety."

Omar's focus, she says, is continuing to fight for her constituents. In the wake of nationwide protests over George Floyd's killing while in police custody in her home city of Minneapolis — after a white officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes — Omar has introduced legislation to combat police brutality and systemic racism in the justice system.

And on Sunday, a majority of the Minneapolis City Council announced their plan to break apart Minneapolis' police department, though next steps remain unclear.

"I have been organizing in the Twin Cities, not just against police brutality but for racial justice and equality, for a really long time," Omar says. "Now we find ourselves with the brutal killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. And finally recognized that there is no amount of reform that can be instituted that would make this extremely disturbing police department more function[al] for all of our residents."

"It's liberating to hear the call to action from demonstrators," she continues. "We need to radically think about what public safety should look like in the future. How do we adequately address substance abuse and homelessness and many of the societal issues that we have criminalized in a way that is more just and preventive, rather than punitive? What role, if any, should police officers have in our community going forward?"

The congresswoman also addressed President Donald Trump's rhetoric about the unrest, including saying he would send in the military to states that do not quell demonstrators to his satisfaction.

While the majority of protests have been peaceful, some have seethed into violence and destruction — and Trump has responded with his own threats.

"You have a president who is spending his time talking about the 'vicious dogs' he has and the kind of armed brutality he is going to bring to crack down on demonstrators, which is the way in which tyrants and authoritarians speak," Omar says. "So we're working on policies to check those powers. And make sure that there is no transgression against the administrators, and that there is the restoration in belief in our constitution and in our democracy."

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