(RNS) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations recognized U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., as its “American Muslim Public Servant of 2021“ during the organization’s annual banquet on Saturday (Dec. 4). The virtual event was attended by a number of Muslim activists and three members of Congress.
In her acceptance speech, Omar acknowledged it had been a “very difficult week” as the political feud between her and Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., continued to draw headlines after a video clip featuring Boebert making disparaging remarks about Omar was posted Nov. 25 on Twitter.
In the clip, Boebert, who appears to be addressing a crowd at a campaign event, describes standing in an elevator with Omar when a Capitol police officer ran toward them. “Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,” Boebert recalled saying, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “And I said, ‘Oh look, the jihad squad decided to show up for work today.’”
The pushback was swift and Boebert later tweeted an apology “to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar.” The two representatives spoke Nov. 29, but Omar abruptly ended the tense phone call after she said Boebert refused to apologize to her directly.
“When a sitting member of Congress calls a colleague a member of the ‘jihad squad’ and falsifies a story to suggest I will blow up the Capitol, it is not just an attack on me but on millions of American Muslims across the country,” Omar said during a news conference the next day. “We cannot pretend this hate speech from leading politicians doesn’t have real consequences.”
Omar, one of three Muslims currently in Congress, is pressing for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to hold a vote stripping Boebert of her committee assignments.
“For far too long, rhetoric like Lauren Boebert’s has been a routine part of our political discourse both in the United States and around the world,” Omar said during her acceptance speech at the CAIR banquet.
The instance with Boebert, Omar said, is one of many reasons she is pushing for the creation of a global envoy for Islamophobia. Omar promised in her remarks that her bill on the matter would soon go before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In October, Omar, along with her colleague Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., introduced the Combating International Islamophobia Act, which would require the State Department to choose a special envoy for monitoring and combating Islamophobia across the globe, similar to the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, established in 2004.
Two of Omar’s congressional colleagues also spoke at the event — Andre Carson, D-Ind., who presented the award, and Cori Bush, D-Mo.
“What we are witnessing today is dangerous anti-Muslim racism, not just by the most white supremacist elements of society but by other members of Congress,” said Bush, a registered nurse and ordained pastor who has been active in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bush also praised the joint work between Muslim communities and other minority groups in building a “just future” and “liberation.”
CAIR consists of a number of constituent chapters around the country, and the annual banquet recognized a handful of CAIR regional chapters, including in Austin, Texas; Oklahoma; Pittsburgh; and Washington.
The CAIR chapter responsible for Sacramento Valley and Central Valley in California was recognized for its rapid growth, after tripling its staff in 2021. The chapter’s center is set to include a new theater, café and other facilities, built in part to serve an expected surge in Muslim refugees, as Northern California is projected to receive more Afghan refugees than any other region of the United States.