Calling the bill an important step toward addressing questions of “equity, bias and justice,” Schakowsky said Thursday that “we are focusing our energy on building more support and moving this forward in the House.”
The Combating International Islamophobia Act asks the State Department to establish an office headed by a special envoy to be appointed by the secretary of state. The office would record instances of Islamophobia, including violence against and harassment of Muslims and vandalism of their mosques, schools and cemeteries worldwide, in reports created by the State Department. The reports also would highlight propaganda efforts by state and nonstate media “to promote racial hatred or incite acts of violence against Muslim people,” the bill says.
While there has been bipartisan condemnation of anti-Muslim violence abroad, including against the Uyghurs in China, it’s unclear whether Republicans will back the measure. Many Republicans rallied around President Donald Trump’s plan early in his administration to limit the ability of people from majority-Muslim countries to come to the United States. Critics and federal judges branded it a “Muslim ban.” Several Republicans are now warning about letting too many Afghan refugees into the country after the end of the U.S.-led war in that country.
A spokeswoman for the Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said they had no comment on the bill.
Omar’s role in the legislation is also likely to draw the focus of Republicans. They have frequently accused her of making antisemitic statements with regard to her criticisms of Israel, some of which have also drawn complaints from Democrats.
“I will promise you this. If we are fortunate enough to have the majority, Omar would not be serving on Foreign Affairs, or anybody that has an antisemitic, anti-American view,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Fox News in June. “That is not productive, and that is not right.”
Omar and her allies have criticized Republican attempts to portray her as a radical, a characterization they say amounts to Islamophobia. They also contend that McCarthy often invokes her name as a distraction when Republican members make a racist comment or are shown to have associated with individuals or groups tied to white nationalism.
But Omar is hoping her bill will draw bipartisan support because of its focus on cases of Islamophobia worldwide.
Anti-Muslim hatred has reached “epidemic proportions,” Omar said, quoting the U.N. Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief. In a March report to the agency’s Human Rights Council, the independent expert, Ahmed Shaheed, said that in 2017, 30 percent of Americans viewed Muslims “in a negative light,” and that 4 in 10 people in surveys conducted in Europe in 2018 and 2019 “held unfavorable views of Muslims.”
Since 9/11, 69 percent of the more than 1,000 American Muslims surveyed said they had experienced bigotry or discrimination, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a report. This year, 500 instances of anti-Muslim hate and bias have been documented in the United States, CAIR said in a midyear report.
Omar, one of three Muslim lawmakers in Congress, said the bill is informed by research into anti-Muslim bias and violence, and threats to Muslim institutions such as mosques in her home state of Minnesota, among other things.
“It is informed by the fact that I am a Muslim, and there are so many other Muslims in the U.S. that have experienced anti-Muslim violence since 9/11,” Omar said.
Omar and Schakowsky also cited killings and other forms of violence against the Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar, and Muslim populations in India and Sri Lanka as other urgent reasons for setting up the envoy position. The envoy would be expected to report on efforts by foreign governments to address anti-Muslim harassment and violence, to enact laws to protect religious freedom for Muslims, and to provide anti-bias education, the bill says.
“We have an obligation as a country that believes it has a responsibility on the global stage to advocate for human rights, and as an example of what is possible internally,” Omar said.
Myanmar’s military leaders and former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi have defended the violence against the Rohingya, which U.N. investigators concluded had “genocidal intent,” as a response to a security threat. China’s government has said the forcible detentions of Uyghurs in Xinjiang is an anti-extremism strategy. The governments of India and Sri Lanka have denied any state-sponsored repression of Muslim minorities in their countries.
Schakowsky, who said her Illinois district has the largest group of Rohingya in the United States, termed their killings in Myanmar a “genocide.”
“As a Jew, I am aware of the need to address all kinds of bias,” she said, listing instances of persecution of Jewish people as a reason to introduce this bill to protect others from similar violence and hatred.
Omar said the proposed office would be similar to the State Department’s Office of the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism. The office, established in 2004, is without an envoy, and President Biden’s nominee, Deborah Lipstadt, is awaiting Senate confirmation.
The bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) and Albio Sires (D-N.J.), who are chairs of subcommittees of the Foreign Relations Committee. Other co-sponsors include Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.).