On the cover of Time Magazine

I think Ilhan Omar is the first state legislator to have taken out a marriage certificate naming her brother as her husband. She is probably also the first state legislator to have taken out a marriage certificate naming her brother as her husband who also has a “cultural” husband as the father of her children.

When I sent Omar’s campaign a question or two about her marital arrangements last year, I received this response from Minneapolis criminal attorney Jean Brandl:

Dear Mr. Johnson:

I have been contacted by the Ilhan Omar campaign. Their response to your email from this morning is as follows:

“There are people who do not want an East African, Muslim woman elected to office and who will follow Donald Trump’s playbook to prevent it. Ilhan Omar’s campaign sees your superfluous contentions as one more in a series of attempts to discredit her candidacy.

Ilhan Omar’s campaign will not be distracted by negative forces and will continue to focus its energy on creating positive engagement with community members to make the district and state more prosperous and equitable for everyone.”

If you have any further questions regarding this matter, please direct them to me in writing so we have a record of any further communications.


Jean Brandl

I had a few further questions that I directed to Brandl, but — surprise! — I never got a response. I haven’t taken it personally, though. She has not only failed to respond to questions from me, she has also failed to respond to interview requests from other local reporters with the Star Tribune, with Minnesota Public Radio and with local television news outlets.

The Star Tribune followed up on the story last year, for example, but Omar declined to be interviewed. Democratic operative Ben Goldfarb spoke to the Star Tribune on Omar’s behalf: “Allegations that she married her brother and is legally married to two people are categorically ridiculous and false.” Omar’s campaign explained that she had never legally married “cultural” husband Ahmed Hirsi and flatly denied that Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, the guy named on her Minnesota marriage certificate, is her brother.

Omar issued a statement that went back to the royal flush of bigotry accusations and decried the “Trump-style misogyny, racism, anti-immigration rhetoric and Islamophobic division” allegedly motivating questions about her marital status. When Star Tribune reporter Patrick Coolican requested a comment from me for his story, I asked him who Elmi is. “They won’t tell me,” he said.

I told the story as best I could in the City Journal column “The curious case of Ilhan Omar.” A year later, that curious case — it’s still curious.

Omar still isn’t giving interviews to members of the local media who might raise uncomfortable questions — not even now that she has been elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Omar prefers the national media to the Minnesota locals. The national media treat her like a rock star. They come to praise her. They don’t ask uncomfortable questions. They seek to add to her renown.

In their eyes, with apologies to Shel Silverstein: She’s a big rock singer/She’s got golden fingers/But one thrill she’s just now seen/They put her on the cover of Time Magazine. With her own video!

Time celebrates Omar in an issue featuring women who have achieved various “Firsts.” Omar is held out as the “First Somali American Muslim person to become a legislator.” Omar views her election as one that “will shift the narrative about what is possible.” I can’t disagree with that.

The video includes a cameo appearance by President Trump in Minnesota on the Sunday before election day this past November. The video and interview with Omar are posted here.

In the interview published by Time, Omar presents herself as someone who has overcome double standards hobbling her progress:

People think of Minneapolis as a very liberal, progressive city. We have a lot of immigrants here. The incumbent I was running against was a trailblazer when it comes to women in politics, so you would think that my gender wouldn’t be a big issue. But everybody wanted to make that an issue. To her, people were excited to vote for me because I was pretty. To the Muslim and Somali communities, my gender was a problem because politics is supposed to be a man’s role. Then there was the typical stuff that women candidates deal with—as a mother, how irresponsible I must be to want to run and devote as much time out of the home. No one ever asks the male candidates who are also fathers how they expect to balance family life. Gender was a big thing.

The double standards she allegedly overcame are nothing compared to the double standards from which she has benefited. If Omar weren’t a Somali Muslim woman, she would have been expected to answer a few questions about her marital arrangements. If she were a conservative Republican, well, you know the rest of the story.

As it is, however, Omar has become a celebrity of international renown. She is celebrated by Time Magazine and other cultural arbiters. Her complicated marital situation goes without mention. She is held up as a role model. She is a First. Which she may be, if not precisely as Time means it.

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