COLORADO SPRINGS — “I’ve lived here for almost 23 years,” Kamel Elwazeir said by phone this week. “I’m proud of my religion. I’m proud of my faith.”
Elwazeir immigrated to Colorado from Qatar in 1999. He graduated from Colorado Technical University and currently serves as president of the Islamic Society of Colorado Springs.
ISCS is described as a religious organization which engages in religious and charitable nonprofit activities to provide Islamic religious and social services to the Muslims of Colorado Springs and El Paso County.
Bias against Muslims, Elwazeir agrees, is nothing new.
“We cannot achieve peace if these attacks keep happening,” Elwazeir said. “When it escalates – we worry. When you say Islam is a religion of hate – that hurts us.”
Elwazeir is reacting to a widely publicized feud, of sorts, between Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).
It all stems from a recent incident during which Boebert is seen on video saying that she and a staffer were getting on a Capitol elevator when she saw a Capitol Police officer racing toward them.
In her recount of the incident, Boebert said she turned and saw Omar was also in the elevator.
“I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack. We should be fine,’” Boebert recalled, drawing laughs from her audience. “And I said, ‘Oh, look. The jihad squad decided to show up for work today.’”
Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, said the incident Boebert described never happened. And she, along with Democratic leaders, condemned the remarks – which suggested Omar could be a terrorist – as Islamophobic.
It wasn’t long before the situation escalated.
For her part, Boebert issued a public apology following the incident and called Omar to speak with her directly. But after a few tense minutes, Omar ended the call.
Afterwards, Boebert expressed frustration over the incident in a video posted to Instagram. And she went on to attack Omar for her past criticisms of Israel and calls to dismantle the Minneapolis Police Department following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while he was under arrest.
“Rejecting an apology and hanging up on someone is part of cancel culture 101 and a pillar of the Democrat Party,” Boebert said.
Watching closely, miles away, Elwazeir has his own thoughts on the matter.
“The U.S. welcomes any faith. Any religion. Any color,” he said. “As long as it does not endorse hate. When you accuse someone of being a terrorist just from the way she looks, that’s endorsing hate.”
He spoke to the number of Muslims around the world – which is closing in on two billion – and worries over the “hundreds of thousands of people” who will look up to Boebert and “follow in [her] footsteps.”
Omar, it seems, would agree.
“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,” she said during a news conference Tuesday.
As for Muslims worried for their safety in Colorado, Elwazeir took a breath and called the matter a test of faith.
“Moses was attacked because he believed in God. Jesus was attacked because he believed in God. Muhammad was attacked because he believed,” Elwazeir explained. “Those tests are a part of our faith. Are you going to hide your indentity because peope don’t agree with your faith? When you have faith in God, it’s not going to be easy. But it’s important.”
Omar says she’s received hundreds of threatening voicemails during her time in Congress. The first arrived, she said, the day after her primary. They are attacks, she said, based primarily on her religion, her country of origin, and the color of her skin.
“I’m afraid that if something doesn’t happen to me, it will happen to someone that looks like me,” Omar said during an appearance on MSNBC on Friday.
She played another disturbing voicemail, which she received after Boebert’s video, during Tuesday’s news conference.
In the grainy recording, a man can be heard saying, “You will not be living much longer, b——” while promising that “we the people are rising up.” He also called Omar a “traitor” and pledged that she will stand trial before a military tribunal.
“It is time for the Republican Party to actually do something to confront anti-Muslim hatred in its ranks and hold those who perpetuate it accountable,” Omar said.
In her own appearance on Newsmax on Thursday, Boebert said, “the truth is, I’ve moved on from this controversy.”
“The third district didn’t vote me in to office because I’m perfect,” Boebert continued.
Elwazeir said, at this point, he isn’t taking sides.
“It’s very important that we understand one another,” he said. “We live in America. We don’t live across the world where there’s so many wars and trouble going on.”
As for moving forward, Elwazeir points to his own organization’s progress in Colorado Springs.
“We were able to build bridges with our brothers and sisters from the Jewish community. And the same applies to the Christian community,” he said. “We sit at the table and we share a meal. Many, many things we would not be able to do overseas.”
He hopes to see Boebert and Omar do the same.
“I’d buy their coffees,” he said.
But is that enough to bridge the divide?
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, considering Boebert’s public apology, he would vote against any Democratic attempt to censure her.
However, he also said he spoke with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) to help coordinate a meeting between Omar and Boebert “so that Congress can get back to talking to each other and working on the challenges facing the American people.”