Hate crimes in this country are continuing to increase at an alarming rate. According to the FBI's annual report released this month, the number of incidents increased about 17 percent compared with last year. That is the largest increase in these types of cowardly acts since 2001. The culture of intolerance spread by President Donald Trump has clearly emboldened racist individuals to acts of violence.
One statistic from the report stands out: Attacks against Jewish people accounted for an astonishing 58.1 percent of anti-religious bias crimes, a drastic 37 percent jump. In fact, anti-Jewish crimes have composed the majority of religion-based acts ever since the FBI began publishing national figures.
But even without formal statistics laid out before us, we know that our world can be dangerous and divisive. That fact was painfully illustrated just last month when a far-right shooter opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, murdering 11 Jewish worshipers.
Acts of hate like that have no place in America. We cannot allow those who seek to divide us to intimidate or demoralize our society. I believe that, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. I know that with action and effort, love will prevail and hate will be defeated.
I know this because people of all faiths and none, came together after Pittsburgh to loudly denounce that hate-filled massacre. Muslim American organizations, for example, raised more than $200,000 to support the victims and their families from the Tree of Life Synagogue.
I know this because, just a few days after the shooting, I found strength and hope when I attended an interfaith vigil at Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul with more than 1,000 other Minnesotans.
I know this because I remember how, less than two years ago, Jewish Americans stood with their Muslim-American neighbors against the administration's cruel travel ban. Eighteen rabbis were arrested as they protested the ban outside Trump Tower in New York.
Like members of the Jewish community, I know how it feels to be hated because of my religious beliefs. Almost one in five hate crimes committed last year was motivated by religious bias, with 18.1 percent committed against Muslims — well above the historical averages before President Trump's election.
Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are two sides of the same bigoted coin. But we know that we are stronger when we stand united against bigotry and hate. My grandfather taught me that when you see injustice, you fight back. You do not give in to hate or vengeance. You organize and you help your fellow human.
We cannot let racism and white supremacy threaten our very existence. I am proof that we, as Americans, can embrace our differences. At a time when my status as an immigrant, black, Muslim woman means that the current administration doesn't see me as fully American, not only have the people of Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District embraced me, they have sent me to Washington, D.C.
When I visited the Capitol this month to participate in orientation for newly elected members of Congress, I was struck by the diversity and inclusivity of this new crop of lawmakers. I was filled with hope and optimism because the American people made their voices heard with their votes: They want leadership that is not defined by religion, race or any of the other qualifiers that so often divide us.
As we embark on this new Congress, we will break down many cultural and social barriers of the past. And although there are many Americans who still cannot fully experience the promise of this country, we have the power to change this.
As a new representative in Congress, I will not bow down to hate or bigotry. I will not back down in fear. I will stand strong with you, as we fight to protect all Americans, in every community, no matter your religion, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity.
And I call on my fellow Americans to stand with me in that pledge, rejecting hate and embracing one another in order to create a country and a culture of unity and justice.
Ilhan Omar was elected this month to represent Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House.