“Oh, is it safe to ride the elevator with you?”
These were the Islamophobic comments made by a Florida lawmaker, State Representative Tom Goodson to a Muslim woman, Laila Abdelaziz, as he walked into the elevator filled with state legislators with whom she had just had a meeting.
In a Facebook post, Abdelaziz wrote, “Everyone laughed. Every single one of them laughed (Democrat, Republican, White, Black, old, young).”
Just hours earlier, Abdelaziz had attended a hearing of the Florida House of Representatives State Affairs Committee with these Florida lawmakers to discuss a proposed bill — HB 1095 –that would give Gov. Rick Scott the power to “prevent a restricted person from entering into or resettling in the state and to prevent a restricted person residing in the state from committing violent acts of war.”
The bill, which is blatantly racist and Islamophobic, targets refugees from the Eastern hemisphere. Abdelaziz had attended the committee hearing as the legislative and government affairs director for the Florida chapter of the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), opposing the bill, which was eventually approved by the committee.
After a defeat at the committee, Abdelaziz left the meeting only to be harassed, and in her own words, “belittled” by a state representative on the basis of her religious beliefs — and as an added humiliation, be laughed at by an elevator of state representatives and legislators who all know her.
Muslim men, women and children are being subjected to horrific incidents of Islamophobic attacks across America, with a reported surge in anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes. The Republican state representative’s comments echo similar comments by Republican presidential candidates.
When the people placed in power to enact laws and govern states are making Islamophobic and undoubtedly racist remarks toward Muslim women, it is made clear that there is a structural and institutional prejudice against Muslim women in America.
Goodson may protest that his remarks were innocuous, but the gravity of the laughter of his fellow state lawmakers and the public humiliation of Abdelaziz cannot be denied.