Ilhan Omar was right. In fact, it’s not even close.
That will come as heresy and apostasy to those now feigning moral indignation over a tweet the Minnesota congresswoman sent out Sunday. But that makes it no less true.
In the video Omar shared – about its origin, little is known – a man with a guitar stands in the aisle of a crowded plane singing a Christian worship song. While some passengers sing along, others seem annoyed or studiously ignore the commotion. A little boy plugs his ears. It all moved Omar, a Muslim born in Somalia, to write: “I think my family and I should have a prayer session next time I am on a plane. How do you think it will end?”
The answer, as any honest and intelligent person well knows, is that in a post-9/11 world, it would end with them tackled to the floor and duct taped to their chairs as the pilot radioed ahead to the nearest airfield requesting permission for an emergency landing.
The obvious irrefutability of that point notwithstanding, conservative critics had a field day framing Omar’s words as some anti-Christian jeremiad. Fox “News” claimed her tweet expressed “outrage.” Somebody named Vernon Jones, a Republican congressional candidate in Georgia, asked, “Why do you hate Christians?” And somebody named Jose Castillo, a Republican seeking office in Florida, literally told her to go back to Africa.
“If she wants a country where Christians aren’t allowed” to pray in public, he tweeted, she “should go back to her own country.” Omar, who came to this country as a refugee in 1995, has been a U.S. citizen since 2000. It’s an accident of timing that gave her a front-row seat to this nation’s descent into the sort of Islamophobic bigotry that she was pointing out and that her critics helpfully demonstrated.
But if this episode affirms that so-called conservatism remains a doctrine of hate, it also raises a telling question of entitlement, of who gets to do what in the public square.
Take religion out of it for a moment. Imagine that a group of rappers held a rap battle in the aisle of a trans-Atlantic flight. Imagine that some bickering couple had a loud argument about his infidelity or her infertility. Imagine that a troupe of actors performed a scene from Shakespeare.
Imagine, in other words, any scenario in which a group of people is held captive to a disruptive performance they did not choose and cannot escape. Do that, and one word suggests itself with crystalline clarity.
Rude. That’s what every principal in those imagined scenarios would be. And it’s what the singers on that plane were, too.
It bespeaks a certain level of social privilege that this seems not to have occurred to them, that they never questioned whether they had the right to commandeer the public square and take hostages, never stopped to think there might be atheists, agnostics, Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans, Jews or, for that matter, even other Christians on that flight who had no interest in hearing them sing.
It’s unlikely the experience brought any of those people to Christ. If anything, it probably drove some the other way.
Omar’s tweet was on the relatively narrow issue of a double standard against Muslims. But the larger issue is about the hubris that comes of being at home in every setting, of never having to ask permission. That’s the unfortunate subtext of the worship service those passengers were forced to sit through. Sure, the singers intended it as a show of their faith.
But it was a show of their entitlement, too.
Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for The Miami Herald. He may be contacted at: