By David Cruz
It will probably not surprise you that, in the wake of Ahmad Rahami’s capture this week, the ugly strain of Islamophobia that is always churning below the surface of our national discourse erupted all over social media, fanned by politicians capitalizing on the fear that terror inspires, as exemplified this week by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.
“We have caught this evil thug who planted the bombs,” he said. “And we must deliver a just and very harsh punishment to these people. These are enemies; these are combatants and we have to be tough and we have to be strong.”
Muslims in New Jersey have been dealing with intolerance for well, really, decades, but most intensely since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and almost every time there’s been a terror incident since. Today, a coalition of Muslim-Americans gathered in Elizabeth to say loudly that they — and the vast majority of America’s 3-plus million Muslims — condemn the latest violence committed, apparently in the name of Islam.
“This individual perpetrator of these terrorist acts does not represent Islam or Muslims, in any sense,” said coalition member M. Ali Chaudry. “The Islam that we know and practice calls for peace, mercy, love, tolerance and helping others.”
It is the type of thing heard from this community in the past, most recently in the wake of the Orlando shootings. But many Muslims feel as if they are all being asked to take responsibility for every bad actor with whom they happen to share a faith. Nawaz Sheikh runs the Muslim Community Center of Union County. He was asked today if he knew Rahami.
“It’s a mosque; thousands of people come. We have like 200 or 300 people come on a Friday. Probably he came to our other Masjid,” he said. “I cannot keep track of everybody. As members, we cannot keep track of everyone. People come and leave but we cannot say that we met him.”
Coalition members say they reacted immediately to the alert sent by authorities at the height of the manhunt this week. In fact, says attorney Hassen Abdellah, the Muslim community has been embraced by the community and local government, saying whatever problems the Rahami family had with the city of Elizabeth, which they sued in 2010, had nothing to do with the Muslim community at large.
“I can’t speak to that, I’m not party to that lawsuit, but it didn’t affect the overall Islamic community in Elizabeth,” said Abdellah. “It was more of a problem between his establishment and whatever was going on with the city. It had nothing to do with the mayor’s office taking a position that was adverse to Muslims in Elizabeth or the city council taking positions that were adverse to the Muslim community.”
This was a rainbow coalition, men and women of all shades and all walks of life, joining together to push back against their marginalization, both from within the community and without. Something at which they are becoming all too adept.