The Muslim Community Center on Avenue C and 27th Street was vandalized the morning of Friday, October 14, in what many are calling a hate crime. Graffiti of a racist and hateful nature was spray painted on the façade, near the entrance. The mosque is housed in the basement of St. Henry’s School across from city hall. Graffiti cursing Muslims and one that read “Donald Trump” were removed later in the day. In a statement, the police said they caught the alleged perpetrator, Jonathon Hussey, 20 of Bayonne, using an eyewitness statement and camera footage from area buildings.
“We have morning prayer so people come in pretty early, and they actually saw the person running away,” said Bayonne resident, Yaser Eisa,25, an engineer and Muslim, who practices at the mosque. Pointing to the faded white patches on the brick, he said, “It’s really bad. It’s strange, they had a bunch of ‘F Muslims, F Arabs,’ cursing out God, a ‘Donald Trump’ somewhere around there.
Eisa said the Muslim community is handling the experience well. “But,” he said, “it hits close to home. You hear about these things happening down south but now it’s here. It’s worrying. We’re worrying a little bit about our families.”
This isn’t the first time Islamophobia has been directed at the Muslim community in Bayonne. Its effort to convert an old building on East 24th Street in the Second Ward into a new Muslim Community Center has been met with protest from some residents since the first zoning board meeting to address the matter was held in January of 2015. The hearing was postponed to March of 2016 and has been postponed three times since.
“There is a small group of people opposed to this mosque and they have some Islamophobic tendencies,” said Eisa.“That might have been it. We can’t really tell.”
Mayor James Davis said he hopes the crime is an isolated incident and “that it doesn’t turn into anything else. Freedom of religion is for everyone, and crimes like these will not be tolerated…being the mayor, it hurts to hear of this.”
Davis thanked police for their swift action in catching the perpetrator, saying he condemns “all forms of racial and religious bigotry.”
Eisa, who has lived in Bayonne for 13 years, acknowledges the support the Muslim community has had from the mayor, police, and so many community members. He said campaign seasons can be tough for Muslims. “There’s usually a spike in Islamophobia around campaign time, especially with [Trump’s] rhetoric,” he said. “It’s sad to see people in our community guided by anger and hate and fear. We love Bayonne. It’s sad to see people in our community regarded like this.”
“I think we should be well beyond this as a society. I know he was a kid, but it’s clear he was being taught hate.” – Catherine F.
Rise in Islamophobia
The same day that the Bayonne mosque was vandalized, three men were arrested in Garden City, Kansas, for allegedly plotting to bomb a mosque. The group, reportedly calling themselves, “the Crusaders,” were the subject of an eight-month FBI investigation. Also that day, a Michigan woman allegedly threatened to bomb a mosque in her town of Dearborn. The day after, a mosque in Waterloo, Iowa was vandalized with red spray paint, with culprits allegedly painting the word “TRUMP” on the outside of the building.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) issued a press statement following the four incidents. “Given this alleged plan to attack a Kansas mosque, the two other hate incidents reported today against Islamic institutions in Michigan and New Jersey, and the overall spike in anti-mosque incidents nationwide, state and federal authorities should offer stepped-up protection to local communities,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “We ask our nation’s political leaders, and particularly political candidates, to reject the growing Islamophobia in our nation.”
“This has never happened before,” said Mamoud Farooq, who was walking on 27th Street in Bayonne. “You can’t tell exactly why this happened. Maybe, probably, those were his own thoughts. It’s terrible.” Farooq likened Islamophobia in the height of the campaign season to “a rumor spreading through society.”
“I think we should be well beyond this as a society,” said Bayonne resident Catherine F. “I know he was a kid, but it’s clear he was being taught hate. That’s learned; you don’t come to hateful conclusions about a whole race on your own, and it’s no surprise that Trump’s name was used.”
Added Eisa: “I’ve been in this town for 13 years and I love this place and it just sucks. I’ve never seen this stuff happen before. I never thought it would come here.”
Rory Pasquariello may be reached at email@example.com.