GOP's Islamophobic elephant in the room

Boebert is not the exception. GOP's institutionalised Islamophobia is the elephant in the room
7 min read
10 Dec, 2021
US Rep. Lauren Boebert's hateful anti-Muslim comments are the logical outcome of a Republican Party that has formally adopted Islamophobia into its guiding manifesto, writes Mobashara Tazamal.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (CO-03) speaks at the Hilton Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Texas on Saturday, 10 July 2021. [Getty]

Maya Angelou's famous words, "When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time," come to mind as the latest episode of anti-Muslim hate from the GOP party plays out.  The party's silence in the face of Representative Lauren Boebert's hateful comments labelling fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar as part of the "Jihad squad" and insinuating she is a "terrorist" is standard practice.

Such behaviour is not too surprising if you have been paying attention to the Republican Party for the past two decades, as Boebert's comments are the logical outcome of a party that formally adopted anti-Muslim racism into its guiding manifesto. It is simply the latest in a very long line of racist and prejudicial statements coming from the US's conservatives.

The congresswoman from Colorado spent the thanksgiving break campaigning back in her hometown and video footage showed her performing in a stand-up comedy sort of manner in front of supporters. Her comments had nothing to do with Omar's policy positions, rather they all targeted the Muslim congresswoman's racial and religious background.

"Such behaviour is not too surprising if you have been paying attention to the Republican Party for the past two decades, as Boebert's comments are the logical outcome of a party that formally adopted anti-Muslim racism into its guiding manifesto"

Nothing is funny about anti-Muslim racism, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, hate crimes, and mass shootings targeting Muslims around the world.

Boebert's comments are an incitement to hatred, an observation proved when Rep. Omar played an audio recording of one of the numerous death threats she's received following the Colorado representative's vile comments. In the recording, the man calls Omar a "sand n***** b****" and a "f***ing traitor." The caller continued stating, "Don’t worry, there are plenty who would love the opportunity to take you off the face of this f****** earth. You will not live much longer b****, I can almost guarantee you that."

The GOP's silence and effective tacit approval of the Colorado representative's comments demonstrate that individuals like Boebert are hardly fringe; they are indicative of the majoritarian view. A 2018 study conducted by Dr Maneesh Arora found that 54 per cent of Republicans surveyed would vote for an anti-Muslim candidate, and separately noted that a 2020 YouGov survey found that 37 per cent of Republicans approved of discrimination against Muslims. Thus, Boebert is simply employing the decades of GOP campaign practice of enlisting Islamophobia to amp her base.

Voices

An overview of the GOP's history of anti-Muslim racism in its ranks makes it clear that we likely are not going to see a public apology or a reprimand from party leadership regarding these latest repugnant comments. The Republican Party adopted Islamophobia as a campaign strategy in the post-9/11 climate, most visible in the rise of the Tea party at the turn of the last decade, and the 2016 presidential election.

The GOP is not going to stop utilizing this strategy now especially given that a 2016 Pew survey found that 70 per cent of Republicans believe the discriminatory trope that Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence, and a 2018 study by New America found fifty-six per cent of Republicans "agreed they’d be concerned if a mosque or Islamic centre were constructed in their neighbourhood." Islamophobia is a majoritarian view amongst American conservatives.

Boebert is part of the new class of Republicans that are setting the party agenda after emulating the tactics of the previous president, who mainstreamed and normalized Islamophobia in the United States.

Islamophobia was a hallmark of Trump's 2016 campaign, during which he called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States" and an ideological test of immigrants, advocating for the surveillance and shutting down of mosques, and proposed a Muslim registry. He lauded the works of leading anti-Muslim organizations, including the Center for Security Policy, which has repeatedly made false claims about a Muslim takeover of America. Further, his supporters included the leaders of white supremacist organizations like Richard Spencer and David Duke.

Despite all of this, the Republican party embraced this individual.

Perspectives

As President, Trump delivered on his campaign promise by instituting the Muslim ban, which the GOP also supported. He used his Twitter profile to amplify and propagate anti-Muslim rhetoric by retweeting far-right voices, such as Britain First and Katy Hopkins. And, he is arguably the original voice that incited hatred against Rep. Omar, who was the constant punching bag and target of his racist ire.

In 2019, he targeted the "Squad" (which includes Rep. Omar and three other progressive congresswomen of colour), tweeting they need to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came." Many contended that Trump’s harassment and violent rhetoric against Omar was a key part of his 2020 election strategy, using "anti-Muslim rhetoric as a political tool to rally his base and stoke fear against his opponents.

Donald Trump's campaign and presidency amplified racist and toxic political discourse, and shifted the entire GOP party right-wards, giving birth to a new set of right-wing politicians called "Trumpites" who have adopted his far-right, racist, and polarizing rhetoric. They have replicated his chaotic outbursts and gutter rhetoric, employing bigotry to garner votes.

Another such individual is Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Q-Anon die-hard and infamous troll who harasses teen survivors of school shootings. Greene, who Trump called a "future Republican star," has utilized her social media to direct hate at Muslims, not only spreading disinformation but also liking comments such as one that said, "We don’t need gun control! We need Muslim control!" 

She has also made claims about an "Islamic invasion" and stated that "anyone that is a Muslim that believes in Sharia law does not belong in our government." To no one's surprise, she too has targeted Rep. Omar, referring to the Minnesota representative as "that woman out of Minnesota" who "has got to wear a head covering." 

Prior to her election, Greene roamed the halls of Congress harassing the only two Muslim congresswomen (Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Omar), "claiming that Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib were illegitimate Democratic representatives because they took their oaths of office on the Quran instead of the Bible." To top it off, Greene has endorsed calls for violence against members of Congress (including Omar).

"Time and time again, Republicans have shown us who they are: a party that accepts and rewards Islamophobia. It is part of their identity, it is part of their platform, it is who they are"

The ideological seeds of Trumpism are most present in the rise of the Tea party, which utilized anti-Muslim racism as an electoral strategy in the 2010 midterm elections. From the likes of Michelle Bachman, Allen West, and Glenn Beck, this movement played a significant role in instituting a politics of bigotry that paved the way for the former Apprentice star. They set the stones with their manufactured hysteria around the so-called "ground zero mosque," referring to Muslims as a "fifth column," and warning about "Sharia law," so much so that hundreds of "anti-foreign law" bills were introduced in dozens of states to tackle a problem that did not even exist.

In 2011, the Republican party advanced these racist hysterics by holding hearings on the "radicalization" of American Muslims, further circulating the dangerous belief that Muslims are all potential terrorists. Boebert's "Jihad squad" comment is the 2021 version of the GOP's 2010 "radical Muslims" slogan. 

Boebert and Greene aren’t some fringe figures; they are setting the GOP agenda. Party leadership has failed to take any action against Boebert and likely will not, given the widespread approval of anti-Muslim racism amongst its ranks and constituents.

Time and time again, Republicans have shown us who they are: a party that accepts and rewards Islamophobia. It is part of their identity, it is part of their platform, it is who they are.

Mobashra Tazamal is a researcher on Islamophobia at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. Her work has appeared in Al Jazeera, The Independent, Middle East Eye, and AltMuslimah.

Follow her on Twitter: @mobbiemobes

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Opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.