Colorado’s first Muslim state lawmaker believes words — like those recently used by U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert — have consequences.
“(Boebert’s) rhetoric is what continues to fuel that hate towards Muslims and gives this unspoken permission to continue that hate,” said state Rep. Iman Jodeh, an Aurora Democrat who is the spokeswoman for the Colorado Muslim Society. “As Muslims, when we hear this kind of rhetoric, we also become scared of her supporters and (have) kind of this heightened awareness of our safety.”
Jodeh said she hasn’t seen or heard of any incidents of discrimination or hate toward Colorado Muslims since Boebert, a Silt Republican, repeatedly labeled Muslim U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota as a member of the “jihad squad” and suggested Omar could be a terrorist.
But Jodeh worried such incidents could occur in the future, and called on Democratic leaders to censure, or publicly reprimand, Boebert and take away her committee assignments.
Newsline asked the members of Colorado’s congressional delegation whether they supported Wednesday’s resolution.
A spokesperson for Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat, pointed Newsline to a guest commentary DeGette wrote for The Denver Post, published Wednesday. In the commentary, DeGette called Boebert’s comments “deserving of universal condemnation” but argued the media and public should focus on bigger issues, such as abortion rights and COVID-19.
“I am aware that on Wednesday at 2pm in studio A, some people did something,” Boebert said in an emailed statement when asked to comment on the resolution.
Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse was one of the original cosponsors of the resolution, a spokesperson confirmed.
Rep. Jason Crow, a Democrat from Aurora, supports the resolution, his spokesperson confirmed Thursday.
“Congresswoman Boebert’s words and actions don’t represent the values of Colorado,” Crow said in an emailed statement. “We are in a moment that requires moral clarity and leadership and I won’t shirk my duty to call out abuses and incitement when I see it. I will always stand by our Muslim community in the face of bigotry.”
While Rep. Ed Perlmutter, a Lakewood Democrat, did not respond to a question about the resolution, his office provided the following statement on Dec. 2:
“I think Rep. Boebert’s comments were extremely inappropriate and hurtful. Given the serious nature of her comments, I continue to call on the House Republican caucus to take action when their members express hateful and disturbing rhetoric or sentiments. Anything of the sort should not be tolerated.”
Newsline did not receive a response from Republican Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn.
“This has become normalized in the Muslim community, where we are always at a heightened alert,” Jodeh said. “We don’t have the luxury to just dismiss or pretend like nothing’s wrong.”
On Wednesday, U.S. House progressives introduced a resolution to remove Boebert from the Natural Resources and Budget committees. Rep. Joe Neguse was the only member of Colorado’s congressional delegation on the list of original cosponsors, but Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat, signed on Thursday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters she had not determined whether to hold a vote on the resolution.
“I don’t feel like talking about what the Republicans aren’t doing or are doing about their members, the disgraceful, unacceptable behavior of their members,” Pelosi said.
But Pelosi reportedly urged restraint during a caucus meeting last week, telling fellow Democrats: “There’s a judgment that has to be made about how we contribute to their fundraising and their publicity,” according to the Associated Press.
Jodeh said she understood that argument, but still believed the House should vote on sanctions for Boebert.
“Condoning, not taking action on behavior like this, means that our nation is regressing,” Jodeh said.
Formal complaint filed
The resolution centers on a campaign event where Boebert, a Silt Republican, described getting into an elevator next to Omar and seeing a Capitol Police officer running toward them.
“I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,’” Boebert said during the speech, a video of which circulated on social media Nov. 25. The comment apparently referred to a backpack that might be worn by a terrorist carrying a bomb.
Then, Boebert claimed she said, “Oh look, the ‘jihad squad’ decided to show up for work today.”
The term “jihad” can refer to a spiritual struggle or a military struggle to defend the religion of Islam, but it is commonly used to describe the “holy war” sought by radical Islamic groups. Meanwhile, the word “squad” is widely used to describe a group of four progressive congresswomen that includes Omar along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
Boebert had previously referred to Omar as “the jihad squad member from Minnesota” during a Nov. 17 speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Fact, this buffoon looks down when she sees me at the Capitol,” Omar said on Twitter in response to the video of Boebert’s campaign event, calling the elevator story “made up.” “Sad she thinks bigotry gets her clout.”
Boebert apologized on Twitter to “anyone in the Muslim community” whom she had offended, and reached out to Omar to discuss the incident. During a phone call on Nov. 29, Omar told Boebert she wanted a direct apology, and when Boebert refused, Omar hung up on the Colorado congresswoman.
Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has expressed no desire to punish Boebert for her behavior.
Wednesday’s resolution from House progressives comes after two national organizations, Muslim Advocates and Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, filed a formal complaint with the House Ethics Committee over Boebert’s comments.
“When elected officials attack religious minorities, they can lay the groundwork for real violence against those communities,” the Nov. 30 complaint said. “Her repeated invocation of the false, offensive stereotype of Muslims as anti-American and terrorist sympathizers gives her many followers a green light to direct hate and threats towards Reps. Tlaib, [André] Carson [D-Indiana] and Omar — as well as all American Muslims.”
Anti-Islamic hate crimes spiked in 2017
History Colorado estimates that approximately 70,000 people, or slightly more than 1% of Coloradans, identify as Muslim. Mosques are concentrated in the Aurora and Denver area, but Boebert’s Western Slope district includes at least one, the Islamic Center of Grand Junction. The mosque’s sign was vandalized in 2019, prompting a show of support from the community.
From 2011 through 2020, a total of 51 anti-Islamic hate crimes were reported in Colorado, more than half of which involved intimidation. About 1 in 5 involved simple assault, which the FBI defines as a physical attack that does not involve a weapon or cause serious injury.
Over the past several years, there were times when mosques in Colorado increased security, Jodeh said, due to former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and policies. Trump issued an executive order in 2017 banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. Courts blocked the original order as well as a second version, though the Supreme Court upheld a third version of the so-called “Muslim ban” in 2018, which remained in place until now-President Joe Biden revoked it after taking office.
The FBI, which tracks hate crime data, reported nine anti-Islamic hate crimes in Colorado in 2017. That was the highest number recorded in Colorado since 2011, when nine such crimes were also reported.
In 2018 and 2019, six anti-Islamic hate crimes were reported in Colorado each year, according to the FBI. Two such crimes were recorded in 2020.
“It wasn’t just rhetoric, it was actually violent actions,” Jodeh said of anti-Muslim hate in Colorado during the Trump administration, noting the trend had started before Trump was elected. “Now that he’s gone,” she added, “people like Boebert are carrying that torch and are happily (using similar rhetoric).”
Those looking to support Muslims or the Muslim community should do so by “defending that person or that group of people when they’re not present,” Jodeh said.
“When people can use their privilege to defend a marginalized group, that is the ultimate sign of allyship and solidarity,” she continued. “That person of privilege can stand up or set the record straight. It can be that person of privilege coming to a mosque, learning from a Muslim, taking the initiative to become well-informed — but it really alleviates a lot of the pressure when allies step up, and again, do it when we’re not around.”
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