In early December, a group of 50 Muslim Capitol Hill staffers wrote a letter calling on House leadership to categorically reject “incendiary rhetoric” in the workplace. More than 350 additional staffers signed the letter as well.
Imagine having to go to work every day knowing that, because of your religion, the people you have to sit across the table from and work with hate you.
The letter followed the release of a video of Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., making hateful comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a practicing Muslim. But the video was only the latest bigoted attack on Muslims in Congress, highlighting not only the problem of Islamophobia on Capitol Hill, but also how tragically tolerant America remains of Islamophobia and the double standards that exist when politicians engage in open bigotry toward Muslims and face little or no consequences.
Imagine having to go to work every day knowing that, because of your religion, the people you have to sit across the table from and work with hate you, fear you and question your commitment and loyalty. Imagine passing your colleagues in the hallways at work who you know spread lies about you, demonize and denigrate your faith and vilify your community. And imagine, in the face of all this, having no recourse, no human resources department to which you can address your grievances, no bosses committed to addressing your fears and concerns and remedying the hostile environment they oversee.
No one should have to tolerate it. Yet these are the experiences of Muslim staffers and representatives who go to work on Capitol Hill every day, according to the open letter and three staffers I spoke to.
“As passionate public servants, we each have chosen to pursue a career in public service to work towards a better future for our country,” the letter read. “However, the recent remarks by Rep. Boebert have heightened the climate of Islamophobia on the Hill, creating a feeling of anxiety and fear for many Muslim staff, our families, and communities, and leaving many of us to look to our congressional leaders for support.”
Islamophobia is nothing new in America. In fact, it’s nothing new in U.S. Congress or in our politics. As trends over the past few years have shown, Muslims, their places of work and organizations are still the focus of mass surveillance and bigotry. Pew Research Center has pointed out that in surveys measuring how warmly Americans view religious groups, they put Muslims at the bottom with atheists. In September, Pew reported that "views toward Muslims have become increasingly polarized along political lines,” with Republicans more likely to associate Islam with violence.
In 2009, Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., in a foreword for a book called “Muslim Mafia,” wrote that there was an attempt by “radical Islamists to infiltrate our major institutions.” In 2012, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., falsely accused Huma Abedin, a Muslim who was a longtime Hillary Clinton aide, of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood and infiltrating the U.S. government. Neither faced any notable consequences. Presidential candidate Donald Trump, who constantly tweeted Islamophobic comments, called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Democrats haven’t made the hateful comments that the GOP has, but they also haven’t been aggressive in combating hatred directed at Muslims.
When the House discussed an anti-Islamophobia bill in response to Boebert’s comments, the debate only fueled more anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate from some GOP members.
When Boebert was called out for her comments insinuating Omar was a terrorist, she offered what she claimed to be an apology via Twitter: "I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar.” Her party leadership thought that sufficed and was ready to turn the page with barely a mention. It seems for the most part, Congress is content to move on. When the House discussed an anti-Islamophobia bill in response to Boebert’s comments, the debate only fueled more anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate from some GOP members.
The question is, what allows Republicans like Bachmann, Myrick, Boebert and others to keep pushing sinister and disgusting lies that Muslim Americans in government are working on behalf of terrorist organizations to advance extremist ideologies? If those whom we elect to uphold and represent our values are spewing hate and bigotry, then what does that say about our values and our society when this goes unpunished?
“Lauren Boebert is picking the fruit of a cancerous, diseased tree that was planted by the GOP two decades ago,” James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute, told me in a recent interview on my program.
Look, politics in America is divisive, but it shouldn’t be hateful.
When then-Rep. Steve King of Iowa made comments defending white supremacy and white nationalism in the name of Western civilization in 2019, he was stripped of his committee assignments within a week. In 2021, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., (who has her own history of Islamophobia) was stripped of her committee assignments for her apparent comments supporting violence against Democrats along with antisemitic rhetoric. Of course, defending white supremacy and spewing antisemitism warrant punitive measures, but so too does Islamophobia.
Meanwhile, Omar travels with additional security measures that are often reserved for senior members of congressional leadership. She routinely receives death threats attacking her faith, one of which she shared when she played a voicemail at a news conference.
Look, politics in America is divisive, but it shouldn’t be hateful. We should expect and demand better from our representatives and reject their use of hatred and bigotry to attack members of Congress, especially when the hate is targeted at another’s faith. Islamophobia sets a dangerous example for our children and our society.