As a UConn alumna whose graduate research concerns mass trauma, I was stunned and disappointed to read a Daily Campus Opinion article defending Rep. Ihlan Omar’s inexcusable rhetoric around 9/11. Cameron Cantelmo’s recent article was extraordinarily dismissive of the collective pain of victims, survivors, and witnesses of 9/11.
Cantelmo contends that "it is unnecessary... to always preference [sic] [discussion of 9/11] with how horrible and tragic it was.” While “never forget” has admittedly become something of a trope, rarely would it be appropriate to discuss 9/11–which was aimed toward American suffering–without discussing that suffering. Americans can fully acknowledge our collective tragedy and still work to eradicate Islamophobia. Omar’s implication that the two are somehow incompatible is justifiably offensive to the many decent Americans who wish to do both.
Second, Cantelmo echoes Omar’s offensive comments, writing that “9/11 was in fact an event where some people did something.” Cantelmo’s sympathy for Omar seems to have blinded him to basic notions of empathy, so for those similarly tempted toward apologism, try using that phrase in the context of any other major act of terror or genocide to get a sense of how it comes off.
Cantelmo is right that there is no excuse for making threats against Omar; clearly those engaging in such behavior are taking their vitriol too far. Cantelmo is also right to condemn the use of graphic images of 9/11 in criticisms of Omar. Given that such images have been shown to be traumatic, it is not only disrespectful to use them as political cannon fodder, but it may be detrimental to public health as well.
With that said, Cantelmo is wrong to conflate appropriately-expressed criticism of Omar’s actual words–whether the critic is “right-wing” or not–with inciting violence against her. Our elected officials can and must be held accountable for their words, and this disingenuous conflation would essentially disallow any good-faith critique of Omar’s comments. Although perhaps that’s the intention?
Finally, Cantelmo writes that “it is clear that Rep. Omar takes 9/11 seriously.” However, Omar’s own words and actions contradict that statement. In a video that recently surfaced, Omar mocks her American university peers who expressed aversion to al-Qaeda. Given that al-Qaeda killed over 2,000 of us (a number that is growing to this day), that fear reaction is justified. 9/11 cannot be so cavalierly dismissed, and Omar’s comments are indefensible.
Ellie Catherine Hudd has a B.A. in Psychology and is currently working toward her M.A. in Communication at the University of Kentucky. S/He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.