Omar-Schakowsky Bill Would Create Special Envoy, Require State Dep’t to Report on ‘Islamophobia’

Patrick Goodenough | October 22, 2021 | 4:31am EDT
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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, was one of the first two Muslim women elected to the U.S. Congress. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty Images)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, was one of the first two Muslim women elected to the U.S. Congress. (Photo by Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty Images)

( – Three months after urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a letter to create the post of special envoy to monitor and combat “Islamophobia,” Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on Thursday introduced legislation to achieve that aim.

The Combating International Islamophobia Act would create an “Office to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia” at the State Department, headed by a special envoy.

In addition to those dealing with country-specific situations (Afghanistan, Yemen etc.) the department has special envoys covering issues ranging from “advancing the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons,” to climate change, to anti-Semitism.

The Omar-Schakowsky bill would also require the State Department to specifically include sections relations to Islamophobia in its annual human rights and international freedom reports.

Many abuses that would broadly fall under anti-Muslim conduct are already covered in depth in those reports – for example, atrocities against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and Burma, or the defacing of mosques in Europe with derogatory graffiti – but the drafters want a more focused examination.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois. (Photo by Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

The bill calls for State Department annual reports to include “a description of the nature and extent of acts of Islamophobia and Islamophobic incitement that occur during the preceding year.”

They should detail “acts of physical violence against, or harassment of, Muslim people, acts of violence against, or vandalism of, Muslim community institutions, [and] instances of propaganda in government and nongovernment media that incite such acts.”

Furthermore, the reports should outline “the actions taken by the government of that country to respond to such violence and attacks or to eliminate such propaganda or incitement, to enact and enforce laws relating to the protection of the right to religious freedom of Muslims, and to promote anti-bias and tolerance education.”

The legislation is co-sponsored by more than two dozen Democrats, including Omar’s fellow “Squad” members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).

“We are seeing a rise in Islamophobia in nearly every corner of the globe,” Omar said in a statement. “As part of our commitment to international religious freedom and human rights, we must recognize Islamophobia and do all we can to eradicate it.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines Islamophobia as “irrational fear of, aversion to, or discrimination against Islam or people who practice Islam.”

Other suggested definitions are more expansive.

“Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness,” says the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims.

A working definition proposed by two legal experts to the UN. Human Rights Council (HRC) last year said, in part, that Islamophobia was “motivated by institutional, ideological, political and religious hostility that transcends into structural and cultural racism which targets the symbols and markers of a being a Muslim.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which describes itself as the nation’s biggest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, says it has been calling for a special envoy on Islamophobia for 20 years.

“While global Islamophobia, anti-Muslim state policies and hate incidents have increased for the past two decades, the American Muslim community has consistently called for the creation of a special envoy position to monitor and combat this rising tide of hate,” CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad said on Thursday.

“CAIR is calling on congressional leadership and the Biden-Harris administration to support the Combating International Islamophobia Act and make this special envoy position a reality.”

CAIR said in a statement that “in a world where anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry spreads quickly on online platforms and repressive state policies, a global approach is necessary to combat it.”

At the HRC in Geneva, a U.N. human rights bureaucrat reported last March that “institutional suspicion of Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim has escalated to epidemic proportions.”

The 57-member bloc of Islamic states known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has for years been campaigning at the HRC for a greater focus on Islamophobia, citing incidents ranging from cartoons lampooning Mohammed to security profiling at airports and prohibitions against Islamic dress in parts of Europe.

At the same time, the OIC has drawn sharp criticism for its response to arguably the most egregious “Islamophobic” activity in the world today – Chinese repression of Uyghur and other minority Muslims in Xinjiang.

Far from criticizing the Chinese repression, some of the OIC’s most influential members – including Pakistan, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia – have signed statements praising Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang and echoing its denials that abuses are taking place.

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