In November, as Congress debated whether to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) for sharing a video depicting violence against his colleagues, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) used her time on the House floor to launch into an Islamophobic tirade, calling Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) a member of the “Jihad squad” while defaming her with right-wing conspiracy theories.
Now, Boebert’s latest attack on Omar has gone viral. As the far-right representative from Colorado spoke at an event over Thanksgiving, she once again labeled Omar a member of the “Jihad squad” and jokingly suggested that she could be a threat to set a bomb off at the U.S. Capitol.
In response, Omar and fellow Muslim Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and André Carson (D-Ind.) held a press conference on Tuesday to speak out against the hateful remarks.
“We cannot pretend that this hate speech from leading politicians does not have real consequences,” Omar said. “When a sitting member of Congress calls a colleague a ‘member of the Jihad Squad’ and falsifies a story to suggest that I will blow up the Capitol, it is not just an attack on me, but on millions of American Muslims across this country.”
When Democrats in Congress voted to censure Gosar — with the backing of just two Republicans — they made it clear that inciting violence against another member of Congress is not acceptable behavior. Now, they must hold Boebert to the same standard and censure her for her dangerous Islamophobic attacks aimed at Ilhan Omar.
As Omar said at the press conference, “It is time for the Republican Party to actually do something to confront anti-Muslim hatred in its ranks, and hold those who perpetuate it accountable.”
Bigoted rants like Boebert’s have a clear aim: to incite real-world violence. And time and again, Muslim Americans — especially Muslim women — are the targets. After 9/11, violent attacks against Muslims rose significantly. Mosques were burned and destroyed. People were beaten and held at gunpoint. Muslims faced the brunt of misplaced anger, even though the community and country we love were under attack.
I remember living in that fear. At the time, I was working in Chicago on a technology project to improve our country’s ability to detect bombs and illegal items being smuggled into the country through mail carriers. We were working to stop terrorist attacks on American soil. When the towers were hit, we were in shock. My office floor piled into the elevator to evacuate the building and, as I stood there, a woman who I’d never seen before gave me a cold stare. It felt like hours, and she didn’t break eye contact until I left the building.
This type of hate, bubbling under the surface of our country, is what members of the GOP use as a political tool. They fan the flames, all for political gain, and disregard real-life consequences. Donald Trump did this for four years from our highest level of elected office. He scapegoated Muslims as the cause of America’s problems, claiming “Islam hates us” while banning foreign nationals from seven predominantly-Muslim countries.
The result? An increase in hate crimes against Muslims, which rose year after year during Trump’s presidency. In fact, researchers found a direct correlation between an increase in Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric during his presidency and hate crimes committed against Muslims.
When public officials use their platform to stoke anti-Muslim hate, people experience real violence — from verbal abuse to physical assault.
Many Muslim families living in America have stories of their child being called a terrorist at school or their mother having their hijab torn from their head on the street. And if you don’t have a story yourself, the fear can still linger in your mind. My wife and two of my daughters wear hijab. Countless relatives of mine do as well. I often worry that someone with hate in their heart might target them, just like Lauren Boebert did to Ilhan Omar, or be inspired by her words to do something unthinkable.
Rep. Boebert doesn’t represent me in Congress, but her words as an elected official have a direct impact on me, my community here in Illinois and people across the United States. Muslims are firefighters, public servants, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, military service members, veterans, grocery store workers. This country is our home. We deserve to live with safety and respect, just like anyone else.
Congress must draw a clear line and, at the very least, officially censure Rep. Boebert. We must make it clear that weaponizing Islamophobia, xenophobia, and hate of any kind won’t be tolerated anywhere, especially in the highest levels of the U.S. government. It’s past time to set a precedent that representatives in office can’t use their bully pulpit to incite violence.
Junaid Ahmed is a longtime Illinoisan, community advocate and small business owner. He is a Democratic candidate to represent Illinois’ 8th District in Congress.