Members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) gathered on Thursday with public officials, members of the Muslim community, and religious leaders from nearly every faith from Jersey City and Northern Jersey to challenge recent statements by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, especially his claim that Muslims in Jersey City and Paterson cheered during the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
At the Islamic Center of Jersey City on Park Street, the group condemned the rise of “Islamophobia” in America, exacerbated by what they called inaccurate and inflammatory statements by public figures like Trump and another Republican presidential candidate, Ben Carson.
They said their rhetoric has led to an unprecedented spike in anti-Muslim incidents nationwide in the wake of the Paris terror attacks on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.
“By repeating the false claim, despite a lack of evidence, that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated the 9/11 terror attacks, and by advocating the closure of American mosques and special IDs and databases for American Muslims, Donald Trump must be held partially responsible for the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes and discrimination we have witnessed since the Paris terror attacks,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad.
The press conference drew several dozen journalists and over a dozen camera crews from local and national media.
California attacks overshadow Muslim community
The press conference came less than 24 hours after a husband and wife murdered 14 people and wounded as many as 21 others in a shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California.
While the motive for the shooting has yet to be determined, some prominent Republicans – in particular Carson – have already labeled this a “hate crime.” On Thursday Trump, speaking at a Republican Jewish Coalition Presidential Candidates forum in Washington, was quoted by the political website The Hill as saying, “We had another shooting… and it probably was related to radical Islamic terrorism.”
“We need to bring people together for common goals. We must do better than this.” – Rolando Lavarro
Against the backdrop of a mosque that also serves as a school, Muslim and other leaders offered condolences to the victims and condemned the attacks.
Muslims and others said Trump’s earlier statements inflamed anti-Muslim sentiment and had no basis in fact. Trump has called for surveillance of mosques, registering Muslims in a national database, and even the closing of centers.
Awad urged the Republican Party to denounce Trump and false statements.
“Trump is not only a bigot, but a liar,” Awad said. “A dangerous one at that.”
Awad said there has been a recent increase in attacks on mosques and American Muslims, for which he said Trump is partially responsible. He called Islamophobia un-American and not keeping with American traditions of diversity.
Several Jersey City residents complained before the City Council earlier this month that they have been victims of hate crimes that included verbal and possible physical attacks. One woman said she was followed out of Laundromat by a man using ethnic slurs.
City finds no evidence of Muslim celebration after 9/11
Trump’s claims that he saw “thousands” of people cheering in Jersey City after the attacks on the World Trade Center have been widely disputed. Yet Mayor Steven Fulop said the city received hundreds of calls from people around the nation saying they had seen the same thing. Fulop said there is no police report or media report from that time to support such a claim. And yet, he said, people from outside Jersey City claimed it was true.
He said as the descendant of grandparents who were Holocaust survivors and as a Jew, he stood together with the Muslim community to reject such irresponsible rhetoric.
He said Muslims like many others joined in the rescue efforts in the aftermath of the attacks on 9/11.
Awad unveiled a poster showing the advertisement taken out by the Muslim community after the attacks on 9/11 offering comfort to the victims and condemning the terrorists.
Fulop said there was nothing to substantiate Trump’s claims.
A video broadcast shown on CBS during 2001 – recently unveiled by Trump supporters – allegedly showed Muslims celebrating something on a rooftop in Journal Square. It’s not clear from the video whether they were celebrating the attacks.
Jersey City Council President Rolando Lavarro condemned Trump’s language, saying it only further divided the community and fomented hate. He said it was the kind of rhetoric he saw being used prior to America’s getting involved in the war in Iraq in 2003. He called it “irrational.”
“We can do better than this as a country,” Lavarro said. “We need to bring people together for common goals. We must do better than this.”
Councilman Richard Boggiano said after 9/11 religious and community leaders got together to help bridge the gaps between people, and learn about each other’s culture and faith.
Yun said Trump doesn’t understand Jersey City. “He is a jerk,” he said.
Media may be partly to blame, Muslim leader claims
Nadia Kahf, chair of CAIR New Jersey, said the news media was partly responsible for the rise in Islamophobia.
“Media uses different language” when an assailant is not a Muslim, she said, pointing to the recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado by a white male whom police said professed Christian values.
“The media did not call him a terrorist,” she said.
She said there about 350 mass shooting across America in 2015, only two of which were connected in some way to terrorists. And yet, she said, the media focused on the religious faith of those two. She pointed to the New York Post headline as an example, noting that the motive for the shooting has yet to be determined.
At the press conference on Thursday, a TV anchor for Fox News asked a question that claimed most of the mass shootings were connected to Muslims.
Kahf said she knows of no religion that condones the taking of innocent human life. Others agreed there is a double standard when it comes to the Muslim community
“You cannot paint all Muslims with the same brush,” Kahf said.
Trump’s son is developing two residential towers in Jersey City.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.