Rep. Rashida Tlaib says she was 'naive' for not understanding 'how bipartisan Islamophobia is in Congress'

Rep. Rashida Tlaib says she was 'naive' for not understanding 'how bipartisan Islamophobia is in Congress'
From left: Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota at a press conference on August 19, 2019.AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
  • Rep. Rashida Tlaib said she's encountered Islamophobia on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
  • "I think there's a tremendous amount of fear" about Muslims in Congress, Tlaib told The New York Times.

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan says that Islamophobia in Congress is a bipartisan affair, suggesting that in addition to Republicans, some of her Democratic colleagues hold bigoted views about Muslims.

In a profile in The New York Times, Tlaib reflected on her time in Congress so far and particularly on how her identity as both a Muslim woman and a Palestinian has shaped her experiences in ways she hadn't anticipated. She described encountering both subtle and blatant bigotry when she and Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar first arrived in Congress in 2019.

"I guess I was naive," Tlaib told the Times, "in not understanding how bipartisan Islamophobia is in Congress."

Tlaib and Omar were the first Muslim women elected to Congress in American history, and are among the progressive "Squad" that includes Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Tlaib said that some colleagues were shocked to learn that most American Muslims are Black, while one colleague touched Omar's hijab.

"I think there's a tremendous amount of fear," Tlaib told the Times.


Tlaib also said that it feels as if her Palestinian identity supersedes other identities and experiences that she has.

"I feel like no one wants to see me as anyone but Palestinian," Tlaib told the Times. "I'm a mother, I'm a woman, I have gone through a lot being the daughter of two immigrants in the United States. I'm also the big sister of 13 younger siblings. I'm also a neighbor in a predominantly Black city."

Both Tlaib and Omar have been targeted with Islamophobic remarks from their colleagues during their time in Congress. Last year, Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado joked that Omar was a suicide bomber, prompting calls to remove her from her committee assignments. The House later passed Omar's bill to establish an envoy to combat Islamophobia at the State Department, but not before Republicans mocked her bill during committee hearings.

Both have garnered criticism for being outspoken about Palestinian rights; in September, fellow Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida suggested that Tlaib was anti-Semitic after she deemed Israel to be an "apartheid regime" while speaking out against giving Israel an additional $1 billion for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system.

Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Israeli human rights group B'Tselem have all labeled Israel an apartheid state over the country's treatment of Palestinians both in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza.


Tlaib told the Times that following Deutch's remarks, colleagues whispered "Are you OK?" to her. "The whispering needs to stop," she said, "and they need to speak up and say, 'That was wrong.'"