US Islamophobia Bill remains inactive; fails to curb anti-Muslim violence and hatred

As Islamophobia is global in scope, the US thinks it has to lead the global effort to address it.

Hyderabad: It is more than a year since the US House of Representatives passed a bill to create a special envoy to combat Islamophobia worldwide. But this piece of legislation appears to have had no effect if the growing anti-Muslim violence and discrimination is any indication.

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As Islamophobia is global in scope, the US thinks it has to lead the global effort to address it. Interestingly the bill has not generated much of a debate. There is no reaction to it either – positive or otherwise. It is also not clear whether the US has followed up on this bill at all or it has put the whole thing on the back burner.

This important bill was mooted by Democratic Representative, Ilhan Omar, and it was passed by the US House with members voting 219-212 in October 2021. The trigger for the Bill is said to be the racist remark made by the Republican lawmaker, Lauren Boebert, against Omar, the Somalian-born Muslim Congresswoman, by dubbing her a member of the ‘jihad squad’.

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The bill is considered an important step toward addressing questions of equity, bias and justice. It seeks to establish an office headed by a special envoy in the State Department to record instances of Islamophobia, including violence against and harassment of Muslims and vandalism of their mosques, schools and cemeteries worldwide. The envoy is also expected to record efforts by foreign governments to address harassment and violence against Muslims and to enact laws to protect religious freedom.

Ever since the bill was passed the anti-Muslim hatred has reached ‘epidemic proportions.’ As per the UN Special Rapporteur on religious freedom, 30 percent of Americans view Muslims in a ‘negative light’ while surveys conducted in Europe during 2018-2019 said four out of ten people held ‘unfavourable views of Muslims’. Since 9/11 more and more American Muslims are experiencing bigotry or discrimination. There are also rising instances of hate, killing and other forms of violence against the Uyghurs in China, the Rohingya in Myanmar and Muslims in India and Sri Lanka.

While the Myanmar military leaders and the Chinese government have defended their actions the Indian and Sri Lankan governments have denied state-sponsored repression of Muslims in their countries.
Statistics show that there is a clear uptick of anti-Muslim sentiments worldwide.

Would this bill have helped curb the growing anti-minority sentiments in India if the US had pursued it vigorously? The answer will be negative going by the zero tolerance shown by India towards interference in its internal affairs. In fact, from different fora the Modi government has strongly condemned and denied harassment of its minorities or curbing of their religious freedom although the facts may speak otherwise.

In the recent past, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has rapped the Government of India for adopting discriminatory policies and fostering bias in independent institutions and the justice system. The government, however, has called these observations as ‘biased and inaccurate’ and strongly denied targeting minority communities. The government was equally vociferous in rebutting criticism from Opposition parties and a group of retired bureaucrats who expressed concern at the ‘politics of hate.’ The government termed the USCIRF observations as ‘biased and inaccurate’ and strongly denied stifling voices of dissent, especially of those belonging to minority communities.

The fact, however, remains that the situation of religious minorities in the country has seen a steady decline over the years.  Muslims in India have been at the receiving end in the last few years in the name of ‘love jihad’, cow slaughter, hijab ban, halal food, azan, bulldozer justice and madrasa survey. Lynching and economic boycotts have now become passé. The Delhi riots following months of protest against the citizenship law saw Muslims being arrested and booked under draconian laws. The Christian community is also under the radar with stringent anti-conversion laws being slapped against it.  Thanks to majoritarian politics more and more horrors appear to be in store in the name of ‘righting historical wrongs’.

As the situation worsens by the day, there is a deafening silence at the top echelons of the government.   When it was passed last year, the US Islamophobia bill raised hopes that it would bring a turnaround in the lives of minorities. But there are no signs of that happening.

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