Life threats against Ilhan Omar expose level of Islamophobia in U.S. Congress

December 6, 2021 - 18:0

TEHRAN - Leaders in the American Congress are finding it difficult to address a series of scandals involving congresswoman Ilhan Omar and Islamophobia in what has exposed anti-Muslim sentiments among representatives of the United States.

Recent Islamophobic remarks by Republican congresswoman Lauren Boebert have upset Muslims in America and beyond. A fortnight ago Boebert referred to Representative Omar, one of three Muslim lawmakers and the only one in the House who wears a headscarf as a member of the “jihad squad.” In a speech, Boebert again made anti-Muslim remarks, claiming that while riding an elevator that Omar was also was on, she saw a concerned Capitol Police officer approaching the Muslim lawmaker. In her comments, Boebert said Congress had nothing to fear from the Democrat if Omar was not wearing a backpack, indirectly and unpleasantly implying that Omar could have been a suicide bomber. It has since been reported that Boebert has been ridiculing her fellow congresswoman with this story in public on more than one occasion. Omar denies ever being approached or even speaking with a Capitol Police officer.

Instead of the discriminatory remarks being condemned, the comments have pretty much been met with silence by lawmakers in particular Boebert’s Republican party leaders. Analysts say It is quite an uncomfortable reminder of how Islamophobia has become accepted among American lawmakers representing the American people on Capitol Hill.

Boebert has yet to publicly apologize to Omar and even went on to level more accusations against her during a phone call the two had earlier this week. Hours after the call in which Boebert refused to apologize publicly and the Republicans rejected requests to condemn her racist rhetoric, Omar began receiving death threats. During a press conference, she played a racist voice mail she had received on her phone filled with alarming threats against her life. The explicit recording began with “we see you, you Muslim sand n ***** b****,” and ended with “don’t worry, there are plenty who would love the opportunity to take you off the face of this f****** earth, you will not live much longer b****, I can almost guarantee you that.”

Omar says she has been receiving similar death threats on an almost daily basis while at the same time facing regular personal attacks from conservative media pundits and some legislators. She says “when a sitting member of Congress calls a colleague a member of the ‘jihad squad’ and falsifies a story to suggest I will blow up the Capitol, it is not just an attack on me but on millions of American Muslims across the country.” She added that “we cannot pretend this hate speech from leading politicians doesn’t have real consequences.”

House Democratic leaders, meanwhile, have denounced Boebert’s Islamophobic remarks but stopped short of putting forward a formal resolution or penalty over her statements. Under normal circumstances, both Democrats and Republicans can use several options for punishment, including a resolution denouncing the comments, a formal reprimand or censure, or the stripping of committee assignments. At this point, neither party has publicly announced any further action they would take despite pressure for a serious punishment; from the public and House caucus chairs. Critics argue that inaction in the face of Boebert’s comments will only condone Islamophobia and send a message about what types of extremist comments or views Congress is willing to accept and reject.

A few lawmakers have issued a joint statement saying “there must be consequences for elected representatives who traffic in anti-Muslim and racist tropes that make all Muslims across the country less safe.”

Research has found that Islamophobic rhetoric by politicians has consequences and has been directly linked with hate speech targeted toward Muslim Americans. And as Congress is not budging on the issue of any punitive measures, research suggests it will further normalize anti-Muslim rhetoric and sentiment, affecting millions of Muslim Americans.

The lack of congressional response has shown that neither party is willing to condemn Islamophobic statements, which in turn gives the impression to the public that Congress is embracing the racist and hateful rhetoric.

Omar says “the truth is that Islamophobia pervades our culture, our politics, and even policy decisions.” In essence, congressional inaction toward Boebert’s comments only helps normalize them, and the fact that Boebert hasn’t faced more immediate consequences from either party makes anti-Muslim sentiment acceptable to both Democrats and Republicans.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it believes “that so far the response from the Democratic leadership is weak and late and doesn’t meet the seriousness of these attacks. Islamophobia has unfortunately become a reality of our life as American Muslims. It has not been tackled with the vigor and the swiftness it needs to be dealt with.”

The House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy has the responsibility and power to take action against members of the Republican Party, but he has turned down the opportunity to do so. Omar has strongly criticized the Republican leader after he did not even condemn members of his caucus including Boebert for the number of deeply offensive comments about her Islamic faith.

The lack of congressional response has shown that neither party is willing to condemn Islamophobic statements. Speaking to American media, Omar blamed McCarthy for not doing more to condemn the remarks and discipline his members for racist or otherwise deeply offensive comments. She says “McCarthy is a liar and a coward. He doesn’t have the ability to condemn the kind of bigoted Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric that are being trafficked by a member of his caucus.”

She added that attacks on the few Republicans who have spoken up against Boebert show “their conference condones [her remarks] and that’s why it’s dangerous. this is who they are, we have to be able to stand up to them, and we have to push them to reckon with the fact that their party, right now, is normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry... the most dangerous thing that she has recently said is that we have a problem in Congress because there’s a terrorist. And I think once you sort of invoke that kind of language, you put not just my life but the lives of my colleagues as well in danger because we don’t know who’s out there.”

Referring to the recording of the threatening message, she says “the people who are leaving these voicemails that are saying, ‘We are taking up arms, coming to the Capitol to protect our country from a terrorist are not, you know, people that we should dismiss. They’re not joking. And I think it’s important for us to say this kind of language, this kind of hate, cannot be condoned by the House of Representatives, and we should punish and sanction Boebert by stripping her of her committees, by rebuking her language, by doing everything we can to send a clear and decisive message to the American public.”

Omar described the problem as not something specifically directed towards herself, but rather a case of whether Muslims can live safely in communities across the U.S. under such leadership.

Does this affair explain why anti-Muslim hate crime is on the rise? Leaders have a duty to condemn hate crime in the country, when they refuse to do so at the highest level it certainly doesn’t set the best example.

The bigger question is if there is so much hatred inside Congress towards a Muslim (who is one of their own colleagues) then how much hatred has been built up on Capitol Hill towards Muslims in America. Analysts would argue that the more important aspect of this whole affair is how much hatred is therefrom within Congress towards Muslims beyond America’s borders and what role this is playing in the Islamic world.

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