Who knew there were so many fluent Somali speakers in Washington?
Talking to a crowd of Somali émigrés in Minneapolis over the weekend, progressive representative Ilhan Omar dived into African politics in her mother tongue, lambasting Somaliland, an unrecognized state that declared independence from Somalia in 1991, as well as regional actors that she claims are infringing on Somali sovereignty.
A subtitled video was then widely shared on X Sunday, appearing to contain usage of the “blood and soil” nationalistic rhetoric that would trigger a response from other progressives. “Somalia is for Somalia only (a genocidal mantra) as over 45 percent of Somalia’s population are not even ethnic Somalis,” the translation indicated.
That video was shared by Rhoda J. Elmi, the deputy minister of foreign affairs of Somaliland, who accused the congresswoman of using “ethno-racist rhetoric” and called on her colleagues to “take note of her public conduct.” In other words: the translation of a language most of us do not speak was being offered by someone deeply opposed to the congresswoman’s cause. Elmi’s post prompted a circular firing squad of accusations of mistranslation. A number of outlets — among them the Washington Examiner, the Daily Mail and UnHerd — wrote stories taking the viral translation at face value. Matt Walsh from the Daily Wire called for Omar to be “expelled from Congress and deported.” No one seemed able to confirm the accuracy of the initial translation, but why let that stop you from firing off a take? After all, who could we trust when all the “analysts” were shouting at each other?
Abdirashid Hashi, a Somalia analyst with the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, told me on X that Omar’s words were being distorted to push an agenda. Similarly, Faisal Ali from the Guardian told me, “She didn’t threaten to invade Somalia’s neighbors. She didn’t say she was Somali first and Muslim second.” At the same time, dozens of self-labeled Somalia analysts, some flashing their credentials, got stuck in the online onslaught, spreading their own translations.
In a way, Ambassador Elmi’s move could prove to be Somaliland’s biggest diplomatic success, considering that many in the West had never heard of the region or its claims. Naturally, Omar’s comments served as cannon fodder for conservatives, many of whom became de facto supporters of Somaliland’s plight for independence due to animosity against the congresswoman.
Despite Omar’s claim of the clip being “not only slanted but completely off,” Republicans in Congress took their shots. Referencing the clip, Georgia representative Marjorie Taylor Greene labeled Omar a “terrorist sympathizer” who “in her own words” is “Somalian first.” Similarly, House Majority Whip Tom Emmer, whose district borders Omar’s, wrote on X that “Ilhan Omar’s appalling, Somalia-first comments are a slap in the face to the Minnesotans,” calling on her to “resign in disgrace.”
Later on Monday, Hashi, one of the Somalia analysts who claimed that the subtitled video featured inaccuracies, shared his translation, which the congresswoman reposted.
Hashi’s translation is less irredentist, lacking the “Somali first” line, for example. Nonetheless, it does contain language that would grant Republicans grounds for criticism. “While I am in Congress, no one will take Somalia’s sea,” Hashi’s translation read. “Somalia belongs to all Somalis. Somalia is one. We are brothers and sisters, and our land will not be balkanized. Our lands were taken from us before, and God willing, we may one day seek them.”
As Omar positions herself as the defender of Somalia’s sovereignty in Congress, those who denounced her for prioritizing the country of her birth’s interests over America’s still have a point. It comes across as hypocritical for someone who has long railed against the influence of foreign interests, i.e. Israel, in American politics to express her allegiance to a foreign cause with such passion — even when speaking to that country’s diaspora, of which she and many of her constituents are members. But is hypocrisy grounds for expulsion from Congress? DC would be empty if it was.