It wasn’t just President Trump that Del. Ibraheem Samirah (D-Fairfax) was protesting Tuesday when he briefly disrupted Trump’s speech at an observance marking the 400th year that legislative deliberations have been conducted in Virginia. It was also the “Virginia Way,” a longstanding tradition that supposedly ensures political expression in the Commonwealth is always polite and civil.
As Trump delivered his remarks, Samirah raised a sign bearing protest slogans including “Go back to your corrupted home” and “Reunite my family.” Reaction from Republicans was immediate and harsh.
“Today, Ibraheem Samirah, the anti-Semitic Democrat Delegate best known for a series of virulently bigoted Facebook posts characterizing the KKK as being better than Israel and wondering aloud why he should care about the Holocaust, disrupted President Donald Trump’s speech in Jamestown,” the Republican Party of Virginia said in a news release.
“Delegate Samirah’s outburst was nothing more than childish frustration over Hillary Clinton’s loss,” said RPV Chairman Jack Wilson. “If the Democrats wanted someone to protest this historic, bipartisan event, maybe they should not have picked an anti-Semite. Ibraheem Samirah is a disgrace to Virginia and should resign.”
Incivility sometimes necessary
In an online op-ed in The Atlantic, Samirah argues that incivility is sometimes necessary in the face of oppression.
“[L]et’s not conflate respect for good-faith discourse with respect for the comfort of an ethno-nationalist. Let’s not sacrifice the need to do what is right at pivotal moments in the name of the Virginia Way. Instead, we need to build a new Virginia Way, one that isn’t obsessed with civility, but rather obsessed with love, equity, and justice for all. We need to do what’s right for our communities instead of what is polite to the powerful. Only then can we honor the legacy of Jamestown and our messy, democratic history, which illustrates the truth that dissent is truly patriotic.”
Samirah said the Republican criticism stung. “Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment called me an ‘ill-advised little bastard.’ Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox said that my disruption was ‘inconsistent with common decency.’ But Samirah, noting that other Democrats had boycotted the President’s speech, said that he chose a more satisfactory option: “I waited for the president’s speech, stood in front of his podium, and told him to his face that he can’t send us back, because Virginia is our home.”
“What Cox and others really meant was that my behavior was inconsistent with the Virginia Way. That’s the term often used to describe the long-standing, unwritten rule book by which Virginia politics is guided. It dictates that compromise, civility, and elite camaraderie are prioritized over bold policy, uncompromising ethics, and strong voices,” Samirah said. “It’s the same attitude that has sustained Virginia’s good-ol’-boys’ club. And this behavior is not uniquely Virginian; those everywhere who maintain the status quo discourage deviation, whether it be in manners or in policy.”
Samirah, a dentist, was 27 when he was sworn in last February as the youngest member of the 400th Virginia General Assembly and the youngest Muslim American in elected office in the United States, filling a vacancy created when state Sen. Jennifer Boysko was elected to till the Senate seat. Samirah won 60% of the vote in an election that was closely watched as a bellwether for 2019 prospects for the Democratic party in Virginia, defeating retired federal employee Gregg Nelson.