By Sunita Sohrabji, Ethnic Media Services
Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) jointly introduced a House Resolution March 23 aiming to combat Islamophobia.
The two congresswomen introduced the bill on the first day of Ramadan at a press conference held outside the US Capitol. The press conference was also held to commemorate the 51 victims who were killed in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019. White supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant entered two mosques and gunned down victims as they were praying.
The resolution — largely symbolic — calls on Congress to acknowledge the mass shooting and similar massacres in the US, along with the rise in anti-Muslim hate violence. It also calls on Congress to end gun violence, without stating gun control measures.
“Ramadan is usually a time where we step out of our daily routines and reflect on the suffering of those less fortunate than us,” said Omar. “But this year, it is also a time of increased terror for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are under attack around the world.”
Places of worship
The congresswoman alleged that much of the violence against Muslims stems from government entities. She called out China’s treatment of its Uighur community, Rohingyas in Myanmar, and ill-treatment of Muslims in India and Sri Lanka.
Tlaib, who represents a district with one of the largest numbers of Muslim residents in the US, said: “The March 19 shootings really shook my community. We had to completely rethink how we stayed safe in our places of worship.”
“I continue to struggle with how to protect my Muslim sons. One of my sons has told me he wants to hide his faith,” she said.
‘Far right is no longer the fringe’
Both congresswomen and representatives from organizations supporting the measure, blamed the spike in targeted violence on “Great Replacement Theory,” characterized as a plot to replace White people with immigrants, along with un-American values and culture.
Kareem Shora, Executive Vice President for Programs and Policy at Human Rights First, one of the organizations supporting the resolution, said at the press conference: “The far right movement is no longer the fringe. It is in the mainstream, even right here in Congress.”
Freshman Congressman Maxwell Frost (D-Florida) noted the rise of Islamophobia and extremism in his home state.
Even as attention has shifted in recent years to the AAPI community, Muslim Americans continue to disproportionately be the targets of hate violence, third only to Black people and the Jewish community. In 2019, the annual FBI Uniform Crime Report logged 273 hate crimes involving Muslim American victims. That number dropped to 171 in 2021 — the last year for which data is available — because several major law enforcement regions, including Los Angeles County, New York, Miami, and Chicago did not submit data, due to a new platform for reporting. Civil rights advocates said law enforcement personnel were not adequately trained to use the new platform. The FBI is rolling out the platform, along with training, over the next five years.
FBI crime data underreported
Reporting is voluntary and not mandatory. Marshall Wong, who serves on Los Angeles’ Human Rights Commission, told Ethnic Media Services in an earlier interview that FBI UCR data has always been imperfect, because it is based on voluntary reporting. Previously, more than 85% of law enforcement agencies did not report crime data to the FBI. However, that number has been rising in recent years.
Amr Shabaik, Civil Rights Managing Attorney for the Council on American Islamic Relations’ Los Angeles chapter, said Muslim Americans are historically under-reported in FBI data collection of hate crimes because victims are often too afraid to report to law enforcement.
“There is an inherent distrust of law enforcement, which has a history of surveilling our community,” he told EMS.
Speaking to EMS after the press conference, Robert McCaw, Government Affairs Department Director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations said anti-Muslim hate crimes rose to an all-time high in 2016 and continue to be on the rise. “This is not a category we want to win. Even if numbers drop slightly, we will still be at the base camp of the mountain of hate.”
McCaw said he is “optimistic” that the resolution will pass, but noted that the Republican party has challenges acknowledging Islamophobia, even within its leadership. He, along with many other civil rights advocates, has called for making hate crime reporting to the FBI mandatory.
The opposition had already made itself heard even before the bill was introduced. Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Texas) issued a tweet March 22, saying he had voted against a resolution to celebrate Ramadan on the House floor.
“As a combat veteran, I served beside many local translators who were Muslims and good people. I can also attest that Ramadan was routinely the most violent period during every deployment,” Tinderholt said.
“Texas and America were founded on Christian principles and my faith as a Christian prevents me from celebrating Ramadan,” he said in a tweet, which was denounced by many of his followers on the social media platform.
In related news, the Anti-Defamation League released a report March 23 noting a 36% rise in anti-Semitic hate incidents. The report notes that assaults went up by 26%, while incidents of harassment increased 29%. Acts of vandalism rose by 52%. In an interview with the PBS NewsHour, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, said that anti-Semitic hate violence has risen by more than 500% over the past decade.
“Antisemitism has been normalized and almost weaponized in the political conversation and in sort of public debates,” said Greenblatt. “It’s now just common course to use antisemitic tropes about Great Replacement Theory, about who controls Congress, or who controls Wall Street, who is responsible for COVID, and on and on.”
“In a world in which conspiracy theories are sort of the coin of the realm, antisemitism, the oldest conspiracy theory, has new life,” he said.
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