Ilhan Omar is arguably the most provocative Muslim public figure in the United States, giving the American public a steady stream of controversy since her arrival on the political stage.
However, to understand the impact she has on the public it’s important to look at the wider circle surrounding the freshman congresswoman. The fanfare uplifting her is worthy of an anthropological study in how cultures are crafted, and what values a culture exalts at the expense of another.
As a vocal critic of Ilhan Omar — and given that I’m also a conservative Muslim woman — my own reflections as a public figure are sharply scrutinized by Ilhan Omar defenders. What I’m noticing in that I’m often told by Ilhan Omar supporters, “She’s more successful than you.”
This is said as an attack, said to shame and silence me. While I certainly don’t feel shame, what I do feel is total bewilderment. These sorts of messages tell me two things:
- Success is still being measured by new markers
The more visibility, public support and “space” one occupies (even in traditional spaces of power), the more “success” they’re attributed by the public.
- Success is being used as currency to silence speech
Greater “success” implies that one is somehow entitled to insulation from inquiry or critique because they are perceived to carry more value as a human being.
If this is my experience, what chance does the average person have who doesn’t have two decades of experience in these conversations?
Another point: The more the average person is silenced in dialogue, the more chance that they’ll be pushed into fringe groups. The more they’re pushed into the fringe, the more they’ll resonate with outlier personalities, including extremists.
The emphasis on success in our day measured by visibility is deeply disturbing because of how it dehumanizes and devalues a human being. In the case of Ilhan Omar supporters, when they can’t defend her based on her track record or character — because it is often indefensible — they resort to personal attacks rooted in perverse value systems.
Unfortunately, there is no point in engaging pro-Ilhan Omar trolls or any other online accounts seeking bad faith conversations. They don’t understand that occupying a space in government isn’t the same as mastering that space and using it as an instrument for the betterment of all mankind.
How we define success is a red flag for our culture at this hour. Take the interview Ben Shapiro gave with BBC’s Andrew Neil. Caught on a bad day with an uncharacteristically poor temperament, Shapiro stormed off the set but not before saying that he was more successful than Neil. Besides the fact that Neil is widely respected, the point here is that the assumption was that being more well recognized meant one was more successful, which implies a higher value. Shapiro implied he was entitled to the immature behavior he exhibited and reserved the right to silence Neil. Shapiro has since apologized.
Whether we look at this issue from the lens of an individual or from the lens of simply a group of people who need to co-exist in a space, the fact remains this: As long as we continue to determine success and worth based on popularity, reach and access — we as a culture will all fail.