Muslim staff in US Congress call for action against Islamophobia

Republican Lauren Boebert’s Islamophobic comments against Ilhan Omar create a ‘feeling of fear’, congressional aides say.

Representative Ilhan Omar is calling for a formal rebuke of Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert for Islamophobic comments [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

Dozens of Muslim congressional staff members have denounced US Representative Lauren Boebert’s recent Islamophobic comments against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, saying a “heightened climate of Islamophobia” on Capitol Hill has created “a feeling of anxiety and fear”.

In an open letter to the US House of Representatives leadership on Wednesday, the group said “hateful rhetoric by public officials directly impacts us and puts our safety at risk, both at the workplace and in our everyday lives”.

“Witnessing unchecked harassment of one of only three Muslim members of Congress – and the only visibly Muslim member – we feel that our workplace is neither safe nor welcome,” reads the letter, signed by 62 Muslim staff members in the House and the Senate and 378 allied staff.

It comes after a recent video posted on Facebook showed Boebert, a first-term Republican congresswoman from Colorado, at an event describing a purported interaction with Omar, a Somali American and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

In the footage, Boebert described encountering Omar at the US Capitol and being relieved she “doesn’t have a backpack”, in an apparent reference to Omar possibly carrying a bomb. “I look to my left and there she is – Ilhan Omar. And I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,'” Boebert says in the video, laughing.

Omar has said the interaction – which prompted widespread condemnation and calls from Democrats for the House leadership to strip Boebert of her committee assignments – never happened.

Boebert, a political acolyte of former President Donald Trump who was elected to Congress last year as an advocate for gun rights, later publicly apologised for her comments about Omar.

But a phone call between the two women ended abruptly after Omar said Boebert failed to show any personal regret.

The episode is the latest in years of personal attacks against Omar and other progressive Democratic lawmakers, including Representative Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian American.

Boebert and other Republicans, including Representative Majorie Taylor Greene, repeatedly refer to the group as the “Jihad Squad”. Omar and Tlaib have been the target of death threats.

Ilhan Omar, left, and Rashida Tlaib were the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress in 2018 [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

During a news conference last week, Omar played a racist, death-threat laden voicemail she said was left for her after Boebert refused to publicly apologise for her comments.

“We see you, you Muslim sand n***** b****,” the voicemail began. “Don’t worry, there are plenty who would love the opportunity to take you off the face of this f****** earth,” the caller continued. “You will not live much longer b****, I can almost guarantee you that.”

In their letter on Wednesday, the Muslim congressional staff members urged Congress to “categorically reject this incendiary rhetoric that endangers the physical, mental and emotional well-being of staff across both sides of the aisle”.

“This type of harmful behavior normalizes hate against an entire religious community that has already faced decades of derogatory rhetoric, hate crimes, surveillance, distrust, discrimination, demonization and violence,” the letter said.

On December 5, Omar said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had pledged the chamber would take action to rebuke Boebert, although that has not happened yet.

“I have had a conversation with the speaker, and I’m very confident that she will take decisive action next week,” Omar said on CNN’s State of the Union programme.

Meanwhile, Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Democratic ally of Omar, has introduced a resolution in the House that would strip Boebert of her committee assignments. Pressley is pushing for a House vote on the measure.

“We stand in solidarity with Representative Omar and our Muslim colleagues who, for too long, have been targets of unprecedented hate and vitriol,” she said on Wednesday.

Last month, the House rebuked Republican Paul Gosar for tweeting an anime video that portrayed him killing Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat, and attacking President Joe Biden.

The House stripped Greene of her committee assignments earlier this year for past remarks supporting violence against Democrats.

Source: Al Jazeera