Since President Trump tweeted a provocative video juxtaposing clips of Rep. Ilhan Omar and the falling Twin Towers, Omar has faced a surge of criticism along with direct threats of violence, both online and offline.
But how did a video of Omar’s comments on the 9/11 terrorist attacks, part of a speech about how Muslims should not lose their civil liberties because of the actions of extremists, explode into such a massive controversy?
Credit a controversial Australian imam, little known in the U.S. until now.
For three weeks, the contents of Omar’s 20-minute speech at a Council on American-Islamic Relations fundraising banquet last month went virtually unnoticed.
Then a video clip about the speech landed in the path of Rep. Dan Crenshaw, who posted about it on Twitter: “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something’. Unbelievable.”
Crenshaw didn’t appear to have come across the clip on Fox News, which broadcast the entire speech live, nor did he seem to have come across it on a right-wing blog or news site.
Crenshaw had actually retweeted a post by Australia’s Imam Mohammad Tawhidi, who had uploaded a clip of Omar’s speech to Twitter and claimed that her speech minimized the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
That post from Tawhidi, a self-described reformist Shiite imam who goes by the handle @ImamOfPeace, helped catapult Omar’s comments into the right wing’s view and spurred yet another cycle of outrage over Omar.
Many of Tawhidi’s critics, including some prominent U.S. Muslims from both sides of the political aisle, say that wasn’t an accident. His detractors within Muslim communities believe that Tawhidi doesn’t carry a message of peace – nor, many claim, is he actually an imam.
Instead, many call him the “fake sheikh.”
Ilhan Omar mentions 9/11 and does not consider it a terrorist attack on the USA by terrorists, instead she refers to it as “Some people did something”, then she goes on to justify the establishment of a terrorist organization (CAIR) on US soil. pic.twitter.com/ixP3BJfqxS
— Imam Mohamad Tawhidi (@Imamofpeace) April 9, 2019
Tawhidi, a verified Twitter user with more than 380,000 users following him, bills himself on the platform as a former Islamic extremist turned “Peace Advocate, Reformist Imam, Ordained Scholar (and) National Bestselling Author.”
In 2016, he became the founding president of the Islamic Association of South Australia. Through the organization, which appears to have few followers or fans offline, he has positioned himself as a lone truthful voice combating Islamic extremism by championing national security, anti-radicalization, women’s rights, religious tolerance and support for Jews and Israel.
He appears to have converted that organization, whose site is now down, into the Imam Tawhidi Foundation. Its website says the foundation works to achieve peace by “ideologically tackling Islamic extremism on both diplomatic and international level.”
Since 2016, when Tawhidi burst into Australia’s media spotlight, thanks to his unexpected stances on those issues, the Iranian-born cleric has managed to build a significant media profile for himself on TV news and among the alt-right and anti-Muslim blogosphere. He has received endorsements from activists like author Ayaan Hirsi Ali, English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson, author Sam Harris and Infowars’ Paul Joseph Watson, all of whom normally have a more contentious relationship with Muslim communities.
Tawhidi took full credit for his role in bringing attention to Omar’s comments. His post was retweeted more than 23,000 times, including by GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel.
“One tweet from Imam Tawhidi managed to influence the United States media for 3 days straight,” he wrote. “This is exactly why the mainstream media hates me.”
Tawhidi told Religion News Service that he does not support any attacks or incitement of violence against Omar and that his criticism of her is rooted in his belief that “her agenda will lead to civil unrest.”
He also criticized her ties to CAIR and what he called “her continuous bad choices of words.”
In the past, Tawhidi has accused Omar of promoting Shariah, being anti-Semitic and attending “terrorism classes.”
After Fox News host Jeanine Pirro claimed Omar’s hijab was “antithetical to the United States Constitution,” he defended Pirro and then posted an original poem in her honor. “She uses her voice to express / Words of truth through the press … Stay strong, Princess.”
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Source: Religion News Service