Rep. Jamaal Bowman on standing with Rep. Ilhan Omar against Islamophobia, death threats

EXCLUSIVE: "It's an incredibly dangerous time and we've all got to step up and say something," Rep. Jamaal Bowman of New York recently told theGrio during an exclusive interview.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) is standing in support of fellow Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota lawmaker who’s been receiving anti-Muslim death threats in the aftermath of highly publicized Islamophobic jokes made about her by GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado.

Bowman stood next to Omar and other Muslim lawmakers, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), during a Tuesday press conference where Omar addressed the threatening voicemails her office recently received. He put his arm around her as she walked off to leave the event and is now calling on other Americans to join him in condemning anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Reps. Carson, Tlaib and Omar Speak On Islamophobia
(L-R) Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) embraces Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as they leave a news conference about Islamophobia on Capitol Hill on November 30, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“It’s important for Muslims and non-Muslims to stand together against hate in all of its forms, particularly against Islamophobia because quite often Islamophobia is almost like the forgotten ‘-ism’ and the forgotten phobia that is always present,” Bowman told theGrio Washington D.C. bureau chief April Ryan earlier this week during an exclusive interview.

“It’s always there,” he said about anti-Muslim sentiment. “It’s incredibly violent. Just think of the Christ Church shooting in New Zealand a couple years ago that killed 50 Muslims, which was a complete evil and insanity.”

Bowman’s comments come about a week after a viral video showed Boebert referring to Omar and other Muslim lawmakers as members of the “jihad squad” as she told bigoted jokes about their faith.

The Trump-supporting freshman representative has become a more prominent household name since her comments to supporters at an event during Thanksgiving break first surfaced. During the event, Boebert told a story about an alleged encounter she had with Omar in an elevator at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Omar has denied that the encounter ever took place and suggested Boebert is using bigotry to advance her career.

“I look to my left and there she is: Ilhan Omar,” Boebert said during a video recording of her meeting with supporters. “And I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,’” the Republican quipped, suggesting Omar may be a suicide bomber, as conservative supporters laughed and cheered. 

Boebert later apologized on Twitter for her remarks before walking back that apology during a phone call with Omar. Newly surfaced video also shows Boebert made similar remarks about Omar during a previous event in September.

Bowman said the racism and Islamophobia demonstrated by Boebert and other GOP lawmakers is both an “evil” and a “mental illness” that “continues to lurk.”

“It obviously has no place in Congress,” he said. “I don’t see Rep. Boebert as a leader even though she is an elected member of Congress, which makes her one of the 435, which is dangerous in and of itself. But her recent statements about Congresswoman Omar on top of other statements she has made, on top of statements Marjorie Taylor Greene has made, on top of statements that Madison Cawthorn has made, focused on Islamophobia, but also racism, and just fanning the flames of what seems like a racial civil war or something that they want.”

Democratic leaders have condemned GOP leadership for not denouncing Boebert’s comments, particularly in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 insurrection on Capitol Hill that threatened the lives of congresspeople on both sides of the aisle.

Freshman GOP Rep. Nancy Mace of South Carolina, who has been vocal in denouncing her far-right colleagues in the past, condemned Boebert’s remarks “100 percent” during a recent CNN interview. House minority leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has characterized the Boebert story as a distraction from issues Americans really care about, according to ABC News.

But Bowman also called on more Democratic leaders to speak up in defense of Omar.

“It hurts more when leadership in your party doesn’t stand up with you and for you,” he said. “So I hope that they come around and do just that. I couldn’t imagine being [Omar], quite honestly. I couldn’t imagine the constant death threats that are credible, just because of who you are.”

Have you subscribed to theGrio podcasts, Dear Culture or Acting Up? Download our newest episodes now!

TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!