US Hindu nationalist groups: What could this mean for Muslims and minorities?

US Hindu nationalist groups: What could this mean for Muslims and minorities?

A The New Arab Exclusive Article.

Published September 27th, 2022 | By Dina Sayedahmed and Hamzah Khan

As millions of Muslims in India face the threat of genocide under Modi’s government, Dina Sayedahmed and Hamzah Khan warn about the dangerous impact of affiliated Hindu nationalist groups on minorities in New Jersey, US.

With pockets of Middlesex County in New Jersey dubbed “Little India,” the area has long boasted of a thriving Indian American population. As a whole, New Jersey is home to at least 10% of US migrants from India, according to a study by Migration Policy. Middlesex County, specifically, is among the top four counties where immigrants from India have resettled, second only to Santa Clara County in California.

Not only has the Indian American diaspora brought forth a rich diversity to the region’s cultural and business centres, but schools in the area also rank in the top percentages in the state of New Jersey. Real estate networks sell Edison as a town with a booming economy, progressing from being a manufacturing city to one that offers technological and innovation-based business ventures.

More recently, however, the area’s politics and cultural hubs have been overtaken by Hindutva groups — a political ideology that refers to the predominant form of Hindu nationalism in India. This has deepened a rift between Middlesex County’s Indian American diaspora, and yielded a less optimistic future, from cultural and heritage celebrations in the area to local elections.

 ”Hindu nationalist groups hosted then-Republican nominee Donald Trump in Edison for a charity event in the weeks before the 2016 election. At the event, he praised India for helping fight terrorism, a phrase that has become code for institutionalising Islamophobia through crackdowns on Muslims.”

Following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election in 2014, Hindutva has steadily risen to prominence in India. His ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), stokes hatred of Muslims and other minority groups in India through its policies and rhetoric.

One of the BJP’s former social media heads, Arun Yadav, had likened one of Islam’s holiest sites, the Kaabah in Makkah, to an ice cube in a glass of whiskey. Another former BJP leader, Nupur Sharma, who was a spokesperson for the party, made anti-Islamic remarks on a televised debate that triggered demonstrations across the globe. Though both BJP leaders were consequently suspended, the comments themselves are a window into the prevailing culture within the BJP, which has traveled to and infiltrated some pockets of the Indian American diaspora through groups like the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HAPAC), the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OSFBJP), the Indian Businesses Association in NJ (IBA), and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS).

One group in particular, the IBA, has been especially active in New Jersey’s Middlesex County. During the India Independence Day parade, an annual event organised in the area – which is normally a celebration of Indian culture and heritage – the IBA decided to include a bulldozer decorated with images of known Hindu nationalists and BJP leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. What may seem like an awkward but otherwise unproblematic place for a construction vehicle, bulldozers carry different implications in the context of India.

Over the past few months especially, bulldozers have become a vehicle of injustice in India and a symbol of anti-Muslim animus. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, specifically, is infamous for ruthlessly implementing “bulldozer justice,” a term coined by Amnesty International that refers to India’s unlawful demolitions of minority groups’ homes. His supporters refer to him as “Baba Bulldozer.”

In the wake of the parade, and after mounting pressure from advocacy groups including CAIR-NJ, both NJ senators, Bob Menendez and Cory Booker, condemned the IBA’s actions. However, Edison council member Ajay Patil — who is also a Vice President of the IBA — dismissed the anti-Muslim animus behind the use of the bulldozer.

While the inclusion of a bulldozer at the India Independence Day parade sounded alarms across the state, the infiltration of Hindutva into local NJ communities long predates this event. The OFBJP and HSS have a history of operating in New Jersey and funding Hindutva groups in India. A report by the South Asia Citizen Web detailed the financial information and expenditures of 24 Hindu nationalist-affiliated groups. The report found that seven Sangh-affiliated charitable groups spent nearly $160 million on their programming, which includes sending funds to Hindu nationalist groups in India.

Just weeks ago, the New Jersey chapter of Param Shakti Peeth of America, a charitable non-profit, organised a fundraiser at a Ridgewood church featuring Hindu nationalist ideologue Sadhvi Rithambara. The church reverend, Robert Miller, cancelled the event just days in advance after learning of Rithambara’s background. Last year, New Jersey legislators went as far as honoring the World Hindu Council/Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHP), a group that has continually tried to downplay its links to Hindu nationalists in India despite organising — and then cancelling after facing pressure — a series of events hosting known Hindu nationalists.

In 2020, the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office opened an investigation into Indian IT firm, Nityo Infotech, following a recruiter’s email specifying to not recruit Muslims. Local school board races have also seen Hindutva influence: Two Hindu-American locals and a New Jersey board of education member, Nitang Patel, signed onto anti-Muslim flyers that were later distributed to Gujarati households in Piscataway, a suburb of Middlesex County, in the lead up to the town’s 2019 Democratic primary. A School Ethics Commission later found that Patel should be censured for violating multiple provisions of the School Ethics Act.

In another instance, Audrey Trushcke, a professor of South Asian history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, came under fire for pointing out that Hindutva groups in NJ were inspired by fascists and Nazis.

Hindu nationalist groups also hosted then-Republican nominee Donald Trump in Edison for a charity event in the weeks before the 2016 election. At the event, he praised India for helping fight terrorism, a phrase that has become code for institutionalising Islamophobia through crackdowns on Muslims. The Pennsylvania chapter of the VHP hosted a “Modi Victory Celebration Dinner” in 2014, a sharp contrast to its claims of being a benign group with no political leanings.

“We must prepare to either kill or be killed,” Hindu nationalist and religious leader Swami Prabodhananda Giri said last year at a conference in New Delhi, prompting an investigation by India’s Supreme Court — a court that is predominantly occupied by Hindu judges. Muslims and other minority groups in India have faced existential threats since Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi consolidated power with his reelection in 2014, and Genocide Watch has warned of an impending genocide of Muslims in India.

At its core the Hindutva movement, which has been broiling since the colonial partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947, is both a Hindu nationalist as well as an anti-Muslim movement that goes largely unchallenged by democracies around the world. In the US, elected officials wine and dine with Hindutva-affiliated groups like the Hindu American Political Action Committee (HPAC), and in New Jersey, specifically, elected officials like Frank Pallone march and shake hands with Hindutva-leaning groups like the IBA.

If democracies around the world continue to ignore the rising threats of Hindutva, India’s 204 million Muslims could face ethnic cleansing. As its influence grows among New Jersey’s Indian diaspora, communities that once boasted of success risk creating a hostile environment and an increase in anti-Muslim attacks and harassment.

Dina Sayedahmed is the Communications Manager at CAIR-NJ, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties organisation.

Hamzah Khan is the legal research intern at CAIR-NJ and a student of international relations at Seton Hall University School of Diplomacy and International Relations.

CAIR-NJ Expresses Concern Over Teaneck Zoning Board Member’s Bigoted Comment About Islamic Center

CAIR-NJ Expresses Concern Over Teaneck Zoning Board Member’s Bigoted Comment About Islamic Center   

(SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ, 9/22/2022) – The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) today expressed concerned over a Teaneck zoning board member’s bigoted comment directed at a proposed Islamic center in Teaneck.     

CAIR-NJ is further concerned by the zoning board’s alleged prolonging of the application process.     

After purchasing the former Longfellow School on Oakdene Avenue in Teaneck in 2018, which most recently was used as a church with day care, the Al Ummah Community Center made plans to establish an Islamic community center with facilities for recreation, childcare, education, and prayer. After facing push back from residents and zoning board members alike, the group is now suing Teaneck, alleging discrimination in the form of burdensome and costly requirements not asked of other applicants.   

During court testimonies, it came to light that Edward Mulligan, a Teaneck zoning board member, muttered a bigoted comment about pickup by camel a stereotypical reference to Arabs when members were discussing car and bus pickup procedures for the proposed Islamic center.     

SEE: Tensions simmer over Islamic Center plans in Teaneck     

The same board member also commented, “Would you trust these people with your children?” when talking about the Islamic center’s school, according to court documents.      

SEE: Deposition   

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said:    

“While disappointing and wholly unacceptable, this isn’t entirely surprising. We’ve seen this same scenario play out in several other New Jersey towns.     

“We call on Teaneck Mayor James Dunleavy to condemn Edward Mulligan’s anti-Muslim remarks and to support his Muslim community in its quest for a community center. Every religious group has the right to establish houses of worship and community centers, and Muslims are no exception to this.     

“At the end of the day, Islamic centers, like the one that Al Ummah is proposing, uplift the community they serve. It is of no benefit to delay and deny Muslim groups this right because, as we’ve seen in Bayonne, Bridgewater, Basking Ridge, Washington Township, and Vineland, eventually, civil rights and procedure will win.”   

  

CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.       

END     

CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut, 908-267-3119, smaksut@cair.com 

 

CAIR-NJ, TWM Introduce Educators’ Guide for Classroom Discussions of 9/11  

CAIR-NJ, TWM Introduce Educators’ Guide for Classroom Discussions of 9/11  

(SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ, 09/08/2022) – The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) and Teaching While Muslim today introduced an educator’s guide to classroom discussions surrounding 9/11.   

The advocacy group shared these resources and has contacted nearly 30 NJ school districts comprising of over 55 public schools. 

The guide includes lesson plans and curriculum guides that will help teachers develop a more nuanced approach to the subject of 9/11 and its impact on Muslim students. It includes essential questions, such as the significance of 9/11, the rise in anti-Muslim bullying in schools, and resources on how to combat Islamophobia in the classroom. Organizers are requesting school administrators to circulate the guides among their educators and staff. 

SEE: Muslim Studies Curriculum  

SEE: An Educator’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices 

SEE: CAIR-NJ, TWM Curriculum Guide Letter to Educators 

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said:  

“Muslim students have long reported incidents of bullying related to their religion and ethnic background to our office, sometimes triggered by inappropriate comments made in classrooms on anniversaries of September 11, 2001. We are hopeful that this guide will help educators and students adopt a proactive approach to Islamophobia in the classroom.   

“It is also imperative that students have a comprehensive and accurate understanding of the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, including the hate crimes, illegal discrimination, government abuses and wars overseas that continue to impact not only American Muslims, but the American people and people around the world.” 

 In a statement, Teaching While Muslim Founding Executive Director Nagla Bedir and Assistant Director Maheen Ahmad said:  “Although it has been more than 20 years since 2001, there is still an extensive amount of misinformation about 9/11 that contributes to an inaccurate understanding of the world. 

“However, as educators ourselves, we believe it is a teacher’s responsibility to not perpetuate misinformation of any kind in the classroom.   

“Misinformation around 9/11, Muslims, and Islam are the primary causes of anti-Muslim racism and Islamophobia in schools. It is a teacher’s duty to educate themselves before touching upon topics they aren’t familiar with in their classrooms. This teacher’s guide is intended to alleviate the job of educators by providing them with comprehensive resources and lesson plans to better understand what happened on that tragic day and the lasting national and global repercussions.”  

CAIR-NJ documented at least 22 incidents of anti-Muslim incidents in New Jersey public schools during the 2021-2022 calendar years.  

In one incident, a Ridgefield teacher said, “we don’t negotiate with terrorists” when a Muslim student asked for an extension on his homework. In another incident, a New Jersey middle school teacher called people from Afghanistan and Pakistan terrorists.  

CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.  

 

END 

CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut, 908-267-3119smaksut@cair.com.  

 

 

CAIR-NJ Welcomes South Plainfield Mayor’s Statement Denouncing White Supremacist Group at Labor Day Parade  

CAIR-NJ Welcomes South Plainfield Mayor’s Statement Denouncing White Supremacist Group at Labor Day Parade 

(SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ, 09/07/2022) – The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ) today welcomed South Plainfield Mayor Matthew Anesh’s statement denouncing the European Heritage Association (EHA), a white supremacist organization, after members of that group took part in the South Plainfield Labor Day parade carrying an anti-immigration banner. 

South Plainfield City Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday night to address the group’s presence at the parade, which caught town officials by surprise, according to the mayor. During the parade, EHA members held a banner that read, “Defend American labor. Close the border.”     

“None of us condoned this group, believe in what they believe in, or welcome them to this parade or the community,” Anesh said during the meeting.   

SEE: South Plainfield mayor addresses residents’ concerns after white supremacist group shows up at Labor Day parade 

In a statement, CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said:   

“We thank the mayor for responding to his constituents in a timely manner and strongly condemning the white supremacist group.   

“We encourage local communities to be proactive in the face of white supremacy. Being ‘not racist’ is not enough — we must be anti-racist ourselves and invest in anti-racist education.” 

In a statement, Perth Amboy Area Branch NAACP member Jimmy Dabrowski said: 

“The Perth Amboy Area Branch NAACP unequivocally denounces the New Jersey European Heritage Association.    

“We call on all South Plainfield elected and appointed officials to join us in condemning this defined white supremacist hate group.”   

SEE: White supremacists crashed N.J. town’s Labor Day parade, mayor says   

CAIR’s mission is to protect civil rights, enhance understanding of Islam, promote justice, and empower American Muslims. 

END 

CONTACT: CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut, 908-267-3119smaksut@cair.com