Muslim staff in US Congress seek action against Islamophobia

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
US Representative Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Representative Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., -- the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress in 2018 -- at a news conference on Capitol Hill on July 15, 2018. (AP file photo)  

Scores of Muslim congressional staff members have condemned US Representative Lauren Boebert's “Islamophobic and racist comments” about Muslims and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

In an open letter to the US House of Representatives leadership on Wednesday, the group said a “heightened climate of Islamophobia” on Capitol Hill has created “a feeling of anxiety and fear,” according to Al Jazeera website.

They added that “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, which is signed by 62 Muslim staff members in the House of Representatives and the Senate and 378 allied staff.

Boebert in a statement last week apologized for her recent “Islamophobic and racist comments” after Omar and other Democrats called for an “appropriate action” against her for "anti-Muslim bigotry.”

But after a few days, Boebert showed no sign of remorse, posting a video that described her call with Omar and doubled down on her rhetoric against Muslims.

"Make no mistake. I will continue to fearlessly put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists. Unfortunately, Ilhan can't say the same thing and our country is worse off for it," Boebert said.

During an event in her Colorado district last month, Boebert told the audience about an encounter with Omar in the Capitol — which Omar says never happened. 

“I was getting into an elevator with one of my staffers,” Boebert told the laughing crowd. “You know, we’re leaving the Capitol and we’re going back to my office and we get an elevator and I see a Capitol police officer running to the elevator. I see fret all over his face, and he’s reaching, and the door’s shutting, like I can’t open it, like what’s happening. 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.’”

Congresswoman Omar has said Republicans do not have the ability to condemn Islamophobia and anti-Muslim rhetoric because they are “normalizing anti-Muslim bigotry,” in the United States.

Omar, a Somali-born American Muslim, also blasted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Sunday for his reaction to Boebert's comments about Muslims, calling the GOP leader “a liar and a coward.”

The incident and a subsequent video of Boebert making Islamophobic comments about Omar at an event in September caused outrage at Capitol Hill, with Democrats calling for Boebert to be reprimanded, and being stripped of her committee assignments. Republicans, however, have not shown willing to take those steps.

On Tuesday, Omar said, “We need accountability for Rep. Boebert’s hateful, anti-Muslim remarks.”

“This blatant Islamophobia should have no place in the halls of Congress,” she added.

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 made a “promise to me that she will take care of this,” adding, “I believe her.”

“When I first got to Congress, I was worried that I wasn’t going to be allowed to be sworn in because there was a ban on the hijab. She promised me that she would take care of it. She fulfilled that promise. She’s made another promise to me that she will take care of this. And I believe her," Omar said. 

“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,” she added. 


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