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Pelosi Floor Speech on H.R. 5665, the Combatting International Islamophobia Act  

Washington, D.C. – Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered remarks on the Floor of the House of Representatives in support of H.R. 5665, the Combating International Islamophobia Act.  Below are the Speaker’s remarks:


Speaker Pelosi.  Thank you, Mr. Speaker.  I thank the gentleman for yielding.  I thank him for his leadership – Mr. Chairman, Chairman Meeks, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, for his leadership bringing this important issue of legislation to the Floor, which addresses an issue of faith, of values and of our country.  The House comes together, hopefully in a spirit of unity, I would have hoped, and patriotism, to condemn and combat Islamophobia and all forms of racism, prejudice and discrimination.


Listening to the debate, I heard Mr. Danny Davis, earlier, as he was singing ‘don't mess with Mister In-Between,’ talking about religion and talking about how it should be off limits.  People's religion should be respected.  I know, and probably it is true of everyone here, the respect we have for our own faith, our own religion, enables us to appreciate the faith – the respect people have for their faith.  That's why this is so sad, because it's an attack on the faith of one of our Members.


Sadly, but clearly, Islamophobia is a sinister, growing, and for too many American Muslims, a constant presence in our nation.  To just review some figures, nearly 70 percent of American Muslims have personally experienced anti-Muslim discrimination since September 11th.  Thousands of documented acts of anti-Muslim bigotry and violence are recorded each year, with many thousands unreported.  Attacks are growing more common and more brazen, from vandalism on mosques, to physical assaults on women wearing hijabs, to hate speech and from public officials to bullying and violence of children at school.  Think of how the children hear this.


And, as we all know, the bigotry is targeted at one of our own – shamefully, from within this Congressional community.  Racism and bigotry of any form, including Islamophobia, must be called out and condemned in any place it is found.  This is particularly true in the halls of Congress, which are at the very heart of our democracy and where we have a responsibility under the rules of the House to behave in a way that brings dignity to this body.  


Our first president, George Washington – there he is, looking over us.  Over 230 years ago, in a letter to the Hebrew congregation in Newport, George Washington wrote, ‘Happily the government of the United States, which gives, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under the protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.’  He, himself, defining what is the right way to live.  Indeed, bigotry and persecution have always been un-American, as demonstrated by our patriarch, George Washington.


Anti-Muslim bigotry affects not only Members but many other members of our Congressional community.  As hundreds of Muslim staffers wrote last week – Mr. Speaker, they wrote this letter.  They said, quote, ‘Hateful rhetoric by public officials directly impacts us and puts our safety at risk, both at the workplace and in our everyday lives.’  They further went on to say, the Muslim staffers whom we value here, ‘We must now come to work every day knowing that the same Members and staff who perpetuate Islamophobic tropes and insinuate that we are terrorists, also walk by us in the halls of Congress.’  That's really frightening. 


Disturbingly, Islamophobia is not a unique American experience, but a global scourge.  And, as other Members have indicated, it is global.  Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Council declared discrimination against Muslims has risen to ‘epidemic proportions.’ 


Around the world, we see tragedy and tragic consequences of anti-Muslim attitudes: the genocide against the Uyghur people and other Muslim minorities in China; atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Burma; attacks on Muslim refugees in Central Europe; and white supremacist violence targeting Muslims in New Zealand and Canada, targeting of Muslim minority communities in Western Asia and the Middle East.


We must confront Islamophobia – or any form of racism – wherever it is found around the world, in our country or even in these very halls.  This legislation will not only address the rise in incidents of Islamophobia worldwide – but launch a plan to combat this bigotry worldwide.


Thank you, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for your leadership in advancing equity, justice and dignity in our Congress, in America and the world on this action.  Thank you also to the Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Gregory Meeks, Mr. Chairman, for your support of this important action. 


With this bill's passage, Mr. Speaker, a special envoy for monitoring and combating Islamophobia will be created, just as the State Department has special envoys on antisemitism and international religious freedom.  That is something we have always shared in this body: across the aisle and down across the Capitol, in a bipartisan way, support for and respect for religious freedom, at home and internationally.  This envoy, the special envoy created here, will be charged with establishing a comprehensive strategy to combat Islamophobia worldwide.  The State Department annual Human Rights Reports will be expanded to include state-sponsored Islamophobic violence and impunity. 


As a nation that prides itself on the defense of human rights and dignity, we must be leaders both on the global stage and at home, by example, to combat violence against Muslims.  Again, Islamophobia in any place is offensive, dangerous and must be condemned.  And Islamophobia in our own Congressional community – specifically, the repeating, ongoing and targeted Islamophobic comments and actions against another Member, as we witnessed this past year, is appalling and totally unacceptable.


That language and behavior are far beneath the standard of dignity of integrity – dignity and decency with which the Constitution and our constituents require that we act in the House.  These actions must be called out and not tolerated.


Mr. Speaker, every day we’re in session, we begin with a prayer because we believe.  We believe in our own way.  Some don't believe, but by and large most people here believe.  We do so with reverence for our own religious beliefs, with respect for the beliefs of others.  If we didn't have such strong beliefs in ourselves, in our own religion, it would be OK, easy to believe, ‘Well, somebody might be frivolous about respecting someone else's devotion.’  But we do.  We all profess to be people of faith. 


The House will continue to look into an array of options to address this priority and take real action to combat Islamophobia, as we have many times taken action to condemn antisemitism and other forms of bigotry.  


I thank you, Mr. Chairman, again, and thank you, Mr. Speaker, the makers of this motion, Congresswoman Schakowsky, who was very much a part of this, and Congresswoman Omar. 


I yield back the balance of my time and urge a strong bipartisan vote on this important legislation.


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