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Minnesota Rep. Omar behind legislation for new special envoy to fight Islamophobia

Stephen Montemayor, Star Tribune on

Published in News & Features

MINNEAPOLIS — U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., wants to help the federal government tackle Islamophobia on a global scale — drawing on long-standing efforts to track and counter antisemitism worldwide.

Omar is cosponsoring a bill, dubbed the Combating International Islamophobia Act, that would require the State Department to create a special envoy to monitor Islamophobia and document cases in its annual human rights reports.

"We are seeing a rise in Islamophobia in nearly every corner of the globe," Omar said in a statement.

Congress created a special envoy to combat and monitor antisemitism in 2004 and has since elevated that job to the role of ambassador.

According to a news release, the new proposed special envoy would help lawmakers better understand "the interconnected, global problem of anti-Muslim bigotry" while setting up a sweeping strategy for the U.S. to lead efforts to combat Islamophobia.

Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., is also a cosponsor of the legislation.

Omar cited a rise of violence against the Uyghur and Rohingya communities in China and Burma, respectively, and recent white supremacist violence against Muslims in New Zealand and Canada.

 

Although she described anti-Muslim bigotry as a global issue, Omar also singled out one case in Minnesota in which a 22-year-old Moorhead man spray-painted a swastika and the words "Death to Islam" on the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Community Center this year. "These types of incidents are all too common for Muslims in the United States and beyond," Omar said. "As part of our commitment to international religious freedom and human rights, we must recognize Islamophobia and do all we can to eradicate it."

Nihad Awad, national executive director for Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that the American Muslim community has consistently called for a special envoy position to "monitor and combat this rising tide of hate."

"Global Islamophobia is not only a threat to the safety and security of Muslims here and abroad, it is also a threat to international religious freedom and democratic principles," Awad said.

Earlier this year, Omar backed bills in response to surges in anti-Asian hate incidents amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Congress overwhelmingly approved legislation to establish a federal review of hate crimes and set forth new guidance for law enforcement to both respond to and collect data on hate crimes. The new law emphasized a "dramatic increase in hate crime and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders" since the pandemic began in 2020.

The federal efforts are in contrast to attempts to bolster hate crime reporting and investigations in Minnesota. In consecutive sessions, Democrats have unsuccessfully sought to pass bills that would let community groups file hate crime reports and to update police training guidelines. The bill, which has not advanced in the divided Minnesota Legislature, would also make graffiti and other acts of property damage eligible to be counted as bias crimes.

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