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US: Muslim staff in Congress demand action against Islamophobia

More than 400 Hill staffers, including 62 Muslims, say Republican lawmaker Lauren Boebert’s anti-Muslim comments against Ilhan Omar are creating a 'feeling of fear'
Ilhan Omar said Islamophobic attacks against her were also an attack 'on millions of American Muslims across the country' (AFP/File photo)

Dozens of Muslim congressional staff members are calling on leaders of the House of Representatives to take action against Islamophobia, following a series of anti-Muslim attacks on lawmaker Ilhan Omar.

In an open letter published on Wednesday, 62 Muslim staffers said that US Representative Lauren Boebert's recent Islamophobic comments against Omar had created "a feeling of anxiety and fear" on Capitol Hill.

"Witnessing unchecked harassment of one of only three Muslim Members of Congress - and the only visible Muslim Member - we feel that our workplace is neither safe nor welcome," read the letter which was also signed by 378 allied staffers.

"We must now come to work every day knowing that the same Members and staff who perpetuate Islamophobic tropes and insinuate that we are terrorists, also walk by us in the halls of Congress."

The letter came shortly after a video surfaced on Facebook where Boebert likened Omar to a bomb-carrying terrorist. In the video, she laughed and said: "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.'"

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Omar denied such an event taking place. Boebert later apologised on Twitter and said: "I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar. I have reached out to her office to speak with her directly. There are plenty of policy differences to focus on without this unnecessary distraction."

However, according to media reports, the phone call between the two lawmakers that followed did not go well after Omar hung up when Boebert rejected her request for a public apology.

Omar later said in a statement: "I believe in engaging with those we disagree with respectfully, but not when that disagreement is rooted in outright bigotry and hate." 

Boebert fired back in an Instagram video and said: "Rejecting an apology and hanging up on someone is part of cancel culture 101 and a pillar of the Democrat Party."

'Unprecedented hate and vitriol'

Omar, alongside Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, is one of the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress.

Since entering the House, both she and Tlaib have faced Islamophobic attacks from far-right media outlets and Republican politicians, including former President Donald Trump.

She said she has also faced numerous death threats, with a supporter of the former president making a threat on her life in 2019.

The lawmaker's critical remarks about Israel and also US foreign policy have been the subject of outrage from both Republicans and Democrats.

US: Democrats denounce lawmaker's anti-Muslim attacks
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Earlier this year, she had called for accountability for victims of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and the occupied Palestinian territories. In response, 12 Democratic legislators, including chairs of powerful committees, released a statement condemning Omar.

Wednesday's letter defended Omar and called on the House leadership to reject "incendiary rhetoric that endangers the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of Muslim staff across both sides of the aisle."

"We know first-hand that without consequences, this type of harmful behavior normalizes hate against an entire religious community that has already faced decades of derogatory rhetoric, hate crime, surveillance, distrust, discrimination, demonization, and violence."

Meanwhile, Representative Ayanna Pressley, a Democratic ally of Omar, introduced a resolution on Wednesday in the House that would strip Boebert of her committee assignments.

"We stand in solidarity with Representative Omar and our Muslim colleagues who, for too long, have been targets of unprecedented hate and vitriol," Pressley said.

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