The Democratic congresswoman and the Labour MP swap stories of challenging presidents and PMs, Bollywood, and formative childhoods
The wall outside Ilhan Omar‘s office is not like that of other members of Congress. In Washington DC, a space aisle of congressional parts commits space, outside the door to the office of the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, to a collage of cards , memo and handwritten postings offering variations on the slogan” We stand with Ilhan “. The 37 -year-old, who was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and wasted four years in a refugee camp before fleeing with her family to the US, has for the last year been the target of diabolical rightwing onslaughts , not least by President Trump. In July this year, he suggested she and three other women of colour- members of the so-called Squad of progressives newly elected to Congress- should” go back” to the” arranges from which they came here “. In some roads, Omar is the most visible of the four: she is the first person ever to wear a hijab in Congress.
Tan Dhesi, Labour MP for Slough, understands the laws of firstlies: the 41 -year-old is the first member of parliament to wear a turban and, like Omar, has a reputation for speaking out against anti-Muslim sentiment in government. In September, during prime minister’s questions, Dhesi called on Boris Johnson to apologise for his remarks about Muslim girls looks a lot like ” letterboxes” which, to merriments from the chamber, he called ” injuriou and prejudiced “.
The two politicians congregate for the first time in November via Skype- Dhesi from his constituency position, Omar from Washington DC. As minority ethnic members of government, the MP and the congresswoman are both keenly are conscious of what is at stake in their respective countries’ forthcoming elections, and of what happens when political rant lurches to the right. Both are campaigning on wide-ranging programmes for better aid provision, less restrictive immigration policy and deeper government efforts to combat racism. Omar has had to confront accusations of antisemitism, after a tweet disclosed from 2012 referred to Israel, in its wars in Gaza, as having” hypnotized the world “. She has since apologised for inadequately” renouncing the antisemitic trope I unknowingly exploited “.
These are difficult times and the two legislators aim, in their discussion, to reach across the Atlantic in a force of progressive solidarity. They discuss the experience of standing up to their country’s managers; of the role played by family background in their ability to represent marginalised societies; and of what it’s like simply to look different from everyone else in one’s workplace- as well as the question of whether Omar might be persuaded, one day, to visit Dhesi in Slough, specific suggestions she reacts with heated if somewhat astounded enthusiasm.
Tan Dhesi I was very stroked when I listen we were going to do this. I envisaged, oh, brilliant.
We’re in the middle of the parliamentary elections here, so let’s see how that works out!
Ilhan Omar What is the timeline for your ballots?
TD It should be every five years, but because the Conservatives lost their majority, they got forced into an election after simply two and a half. I’ve only been a member of parliament for that long.
IO And so everybody has to stand for re-election?
TD Yes. So I am no longer a member of parliament- I’m potential candidates. Hopefully we can be part of the sea change, and it’ll be a Labour government this year. Then come next year, you guys are in, yeah?