Ajaz Khan, a Hyderabad native and a resident of Jersey City, New Jersey for the past 16 years, was reading to leave for work when he watched on television the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center twin towers Sept. 11.
By his own admission he and his family felt pretty down and devastated when news spread that the heinous act was perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. “I was like how can one do this in the name of one’s religion! We were pretty much shocked at that time,” Khan said,
That shock and sense of dejection, however, returned to him again after more than a decade last week although for a different reason – when presidential hopeful Donald Trump castigated Muslims, saying he saw people “cheering in Jersey City” after the September 11 attacks. Trump also said later in newspaper interviews that he would support requiring all Muslims within the United States to be registered to a special database.
“You know what, if I were to see him face to face, I would have told Mr. Trump that he was lying, lying and only lying for whatever reason,” Khan, a computer network engineer who works in Yonkers in New York, said when asked to comment on Trump’s most uncharitable remarks against Muslims and what it spells for the community.
Khan attested that no such thing happened in Jersey City and Muslims were as traumatized as anybody else from other communities.
Neither Khan nor anybody else from the community from New Jersey/New York area attested to the claims of Trump, nor even city officials. “It’s just inconceivable that a presidential candidate can paint people of a particular community with a broad brush just because elections are around,” said Jersey City businessman Mohammed Amjad, a longtime resident of the city and is also a native of Hyderabad.
“We are hard working people. Nothing to hide, I come from a very poor family in India and the United States has given me to make a better living both in terms of money and opportunities. Why on earth should I or for that matter anybody else from the Muslim community try to harm the country that has given us so much or even rejoice as alleged by Mr. Trump, when something as bad the twin tower attack happens in our adopted land,” he asked.
GOP primary rival Ben Carson also said he witnessed the same, but his campaign walked back his statement later.
Incidentally, Trump’s support among Republicans dropped 12 points in less than a week, marking the real estate mogul’s biggest decline since he moved top of the field in July, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll. Although it was not linked to his remarks, the dip in popularity followed his criticism of Jersey City residents.
Numerous publications and local politicians have said since that allegation that Trump was incorrect. Both Politifact and The Washington Post’s Fact Checker analyzed Trump’s claim. Politifact rated it “pants on fire” and The Washington Post gave it “four Pinocchios.” Neither outlet could find any news reports that corroborate Trump’s account of events.
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who is a Democrat, tweeted, saying “Donald Trump has memory issues or willfully distorts the truth”, either of which should be concerning for the Republican Party. “Trump is plain wrong, and he is shamefully politicizing an emotionally charged issue,” he said.
“No one in Jersey City cheered on September 11th. We were actually among the first to provide responders to help in lower Manhattan. Trump needs to understand that Jersey City will not be part of his hate campaign, which is really the foundation for his candidacy.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is also running for the Republican nomination for president, said he did not recall Muslims cheering on 9/11.
Trump’s remarks came after supporters of the Islamic State group killed and wounded hundreds of people in a series of coordinated attacks across Paris last month, sparking national security fears and an anti-Muslim backlash across the U.S.
Star.com reported that Muslim-Americans who sued the New York Police Department over a surveillance program launched after 9/11, said that calls from Trump to put them under more scrutiny are “recklessly seizing on public fears” and distressing Muslims in the U.S.
So, can there be an anti-Muslim backlash in the wake of the Trump remarks?
Opinions differed from New Jersey to Chicago with some people believing that it might create an atmosphere of further distrust for Muslims while others thinking the impact of Trump’s remarks will fade away.
“I won’t exactly say that I am afraid because of this, but certainly I am concerned and troubled by the fact that such a provocative comment has been made,” Khan said. He added that the Imam of one of the mosques on Kennedy Boulevard, one of the city’s main thoroughfares, where he goes for prayer, has advised the community, to direct any question about 9/11 to him least so he can make the American Muslims stand on the issue clear. “There is nothing to hide for Muslims in Jersey City, or elsewhere. We are law-abiding people,” he said.
Trump’s comments sparked reactions across the United States including in Chicago as well.
Minhaj Akhtar, president, Lake Shore Muslim Community Center, in Chicago said that Muslims feel the impact of Trump’s words. “Muslims are feeling the repercussions of Trump’s words as statistics show that hate crimes against Muslims, specifically Muslim women, have risen since the terrorist attack in Paris and Trumps tirade against Muslims,” Akhtar, a native of Hyderabad, said. He also said that Trump’s comments come in the midst of the Paris attacks and the Beirut bombings, which has done nothing more than adding fuel to the raging fire of hate against Muslims, not only in America, but globally. “He is a celebrity and a man with a lot of media presence. To an extent, he is looked upon as an authority and his words enable those with harmful intentions to carry out actions that hurt minorities.”
Akhtar may not be wrong.
Last week a Brooklyn artist, California-born Kameelah Janan Rasheed, was pulled out of a flight from Newark to Istanbul allegedly because she was wearing a headscarf and was a Muslim. Authorities later denied that she was taken out of the flight because of her religion.
Iftekhar Shareef of Chicago, who is the president and CEO of many Industries and companies, including National Bankcard Corporation, felt that American people know the vocal personality of Trump. “I don’t think any community in the U.S. will take him seriously. But he should not speak on any community. Religion should not be mixed with politics, whether it’s here in the U.S or in India,” he said. “People who play religious politics are not acceptable in American society, he said. But Shareef said he does not believe that there might be a backlash against the community because of his remarks. “I don’t feel there will be any backlash because of his comments. Not only Democrats, even Republicans know that his irresponsible comments on any sect or religion, and especially his comments on Immigration reforms are just pure ignorance. American people will teach him a hard lesson in coming elections,” he said.
Others like ShahBano Rizvi, a retired Chicago Public Schools teacher said that she finds it extremely discouraging that an individual can appeal to baseless fears in order to gather support. “When looking at the ethnic breakdown of this great country, it is apparent who his target audience is. We are not at all intimidated by his comments,” she said.
But Muslim or not, Trump’s allegation has upset people in other communities as well.
Jersey City merchants on Newark Avenue, an overwhelming majority of them being Hindus condemned Trump’s remarks, saying they were uncalled for. Others concurred.
Maj. Kamal Kalsi, who works for the U.S. Army and had served in Afghanistan, and a longtime resident of New Jersey felt that neither he or anybody else that he knows of had seen any such “celebration” after the fall of 9/11 attack.
“There might have been small groups of people that enjoyed seeing the pain and suffering of that day. But to single out an entire group of people and vilify them based on the actions of a few is not just irresponsible, it is exceptionally un-American. Trump and his team have suggested that we start to “monitor” Islamic Americans, their places of worship and areas of congregation. Isn’t this exactly what the Nazis did to the Jews? His campaign feeds off of the public’s fear and insecurities,’ Maj. Kalsi, the first Indian-American, and a Sikh in the rank of a major with his religious mandate of beard and turban, said.
“You know what, if today it’s the Muslims, tomorrow it will be the Sikhs and the then it will be the Hindus. After all, we all look the same,” he said.
“If you look at the numbers historically, more people have died from home grown terrorist groups and extremists (KKK etc) than they have from attacks by “middle-eastern” appearing individuals from abroad. I believe firmly that anti-Islamic rhetoric and sentiment is directly responsible for the tragic shooting deaths of six Sikhs at a house of worship in Oak Creek Wisconsin in 2012. We have known for quite some time now that the American public has a difficult time differentiating Sikhs from Muslims,’ Kalsi said.
He said that because of this reality, anti-Islamic policies and rhetoric have also become anti-Sikh policies and rhetoric. “This holds true not just for Sikhs, but Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and any other groups that even remotely look like they’re from the Middle-East.
“American progress has always stood firmly behind our shared values of diversity and freedom. This fear-mongering left unchecked will erode not only our freedoms, but also our sense of humanity. As a nation of immigrants that values everyone’s faith, we need to come together and push back against hateful rhetoric which serves only the politicians, not the country, from where it comes,” Kalsi said.