Why Ilhan Omar’s This is What America Looks Like is not the usual bland political memoir

Emily Tamkin in New Statesman:

This is not the usual bland political ­memoir offering yet another story of finding the American dream. In part, this is because Ilhan Omar is not another dull politician. That much is obvious from the waves she has made in Washington, DC since becoming a member of Congress in 2019. Omar, from Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, from Michigan, are the first two ­Muslim women elected to Congress. Along with two other women of colour, who are also in their first term, Alexandria ­Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, they are known as “the squad”. The 181-year-old ban on wearing ­religious head-wear in the House chamber was changed in 2019, allowing Omar to wear her hijab on the floor of Congress. While ­running for Congress, Omar admits, she was worried that this rule would keep her from being able to serve.

Omar quickly gained attention for her progressive stances, aggressive questioning of foreign policy hawks, and contentious statements on Israel (she apologised for one of these comments, a 2019 tweet that suggested Republican support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby” – ie, financially motivated). And she has been relentlessly attacked from all sides, from the far right to the centre left. Donald Trump ranted about Omar in a rally in 2019, prompting the crowd to start chanting, “Send her back.” Omar was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1982. She was the baby of the family; “a particularly tiny child” and a tomboy. She lost her mother at a very young age, but even so her family lived what sounds like a happy, chaotic but colourful life – until war came and they left for the US. Omar’s book gives an insight into one of the likely future leaders of Democratic politics. Some of the details are unexpected: I didn’t think the person, living or dead, she would choose to meet would be Margaret Thatcher: “Time and time again,” Omar writes, “she showed up in rooms filled with men and didn’t have to do much to lead them to decide that she should be in charge.”

More here.