Director’s Desk: In Praise of AOC

By Jacob Bender, CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Director and Christine Mohamed, CAIR-Pittsburgh Executive Director

If you have not already seen it, we urge all of you to watch the speech by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House of Representatives, in which she responded to a verbal assault by Rep. Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican.

The speech by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (often referred to as “AOC”), viewed over 4 million times in the past week, was one for the ages, for it was far more than a rebuke to a single sexist politician for uttering a single vulgarity (Rep. Yoho referred to AOC as a “fu***** bi***”). Rather, joined by 13 other representatives who recounted their own experiences of aggressive sexual harassment at the hands of their male colleagues, AOC’s courageous speech marked, according to The New York Times, a “sea-change in Washington, DC’s culture of systemic sexism.” As AOC has said, “The fight for social, racial, and economic justice has never been more urgent.” And we might add, “nor the ‘speaking truth to power’ more necessary.”

In her speech, AOC pointed out that verbal and violent attacks against women happen “every day in this country.” And, in an unmistakable reference to President Trump, she added that these attacks on women occur in part because “when an individual holding the highest office in this land brags about physically grabbing women between their legs,” it gives permission to other women-hatting men to engage in the same brutal behavior.

For those professional Islamophobes and Muslim-haters who claim that misogyny is intrinsic to Islam, we only have to point them to the Quran (33:35) and its espousal of gender equality:

For men and women who are devoted to God-believing men and women, obedient men and women, truthful men and women, steadfast men and women, humble men and women, charitable men and women, fasting men and women, chaste men and women, men and women who remember God often — God has prepared forgiveness and a rich reward.

There will inevitably be those who will argue that the oppression of women is dwarfed by 400 years of slavery, and others who will argue that slavery is dwarfed by the Holocaust. (Within the American Jewish community, untold resources have been utilized in maintaining the priority of the Holocaust, where the Nazi Genocide is often employed as a weapon to delegitimize criticism of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and relabeling this criticism as anti-Semitism.) This “Olympics of Oppression” is, in my opinion, a moral obscenity. Our responsibility is not to engage in “a counting the corpses” competition, but rather to strive for a society free of hate, where “whiteness” and misogyny are not the arbitrary standards of normalcy.

Indeed, in their climb up the ladder of economic success, immigrant Muslims (much like the Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, Jewish-Americans, German-Americans, and Chinese-Americans before them), also drank from the Kool-Aid of White supremacy, imbuing its mantra: the more white, the more suburban flight. Ironically, it was only Bin Laden turning airplanes into guided missiles that unleashed the Islamophobia hiding just below the pre-9/11 tranquility, shattering the siren call of American assimilation.

If we have learned anything since the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd — on the brink of unconsciousness, gasping “I can’t breathe” to the four policemen holding him down in Minneapolis on the night of May 25 — it is that confronting white supremacy is not the sole responsibility of people of color, but the responsibility of white people as well, for it is we who have profited from the privileged position into which we were born.

And finally, that the complex phenomena of racism and anti-Semitism, sexism, and Islamophobia are all interconnected; struggling against one mandates a struggle against all.

As our colleague Iftekhar Hussain stated in one of his Friday-afternoon “Reflections”:

“Recognizing your privilege is necessary to knowing yourself. And when you deeply know yourself, you will become the solution and cease to be the problem.”