There is a flyer circulating among voters in Piscataway that uses the kind of coded anti-Muslim language that makes most of us uneasy.
The bigger problem is that the person who funded the flyer — powerful state Senator Bob Smith, the Middlesex Democrat — doesn’t see the necessity to repudiate it or apologize for it.
The flyer was targeted to predominantly Indian-American households and translated into Gujarati, a growing diaspora throughout the county that is primarily of Hindu faith.
Given the perpetual tensions and violence in India between Hindus and Muslims, the coded language seems suspicious. And given that Islam has become the religion most often targeted for demonization by people who occupy the White House and the global surge in anti-Muslim propaganda, language matters.
The flyer is signed by three prominent Indian-American residents — none of them Muslim — promoting candidates who are running in the primary for County Committee next week under Smith’s banner, the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.
The language used against their opponents from the Central Jersey Progressive Democrats is unambiguous: Naming an outspoken and admired Muslim school board member, the MCDO called the opposing slate “a radical group under the leadership of Atif Nazir that wants to take over our township government. We cannot let that happen.”
In two other places, Smith’s candidates ask the reader to vote for “the REAL DEMOCRATS” on primary day.
It’s unclear how this is being received in the targeted homes, but it sounds like dog-whistle stuff.
For starters, Nazir isn’t running for anything, and it isn’t his party. The CJPD was founded by a group led by Staci Berger, a candidate for county committee. Odd how they singled him out.
Secondly, associating Islam with any form of radicalization is a tool commonly used by fear-mongering pea-wits.
So we can’t disagree with Jim Sues, the executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NJ), who says, “It’s a shame to see the local Democratic party using the tactics of the far right: exploiting stereotype-based fears to divide and conquer. They’ve decided to exchange a short term political gain for a divided, distrusting community.”
Dr. Muhammad Ali Chaudry, the former mayor of Bernards Township and the president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, was more blunt.
“Disgraceful,” he called it. “The use of the word ‘radical’ is absolutely inappropriate. You can oppose their ideas, but to use such a term violates the spirit of the political process, where everyone has a right to present themselves for political office.”
More infuriating to Dr. Chaudry is that the Hindu-Muslim conflict that has roiled the world’s largest democracy “is not really an issue here in New Jersey. If you come to any of the interfaith events we hold, you would know that. Bob Smith should know that.”
Smith concedes one point: “The only thing that could have been (said) better is that Nazir is a member of a ‘radical party,’” the Senator said. “Because they are radical, they’re about 100 degrees to the left of Bernie Sanders.”
Asked for specific examples of the CJPD’s radicalism, he replied, “The one I remember, they are 100 percent for Bernie Sanders.”
Actually, if Smith’s own party has learned anything since 2015, it’s that Sanders’ positions on income inequality, the corruption of politics by corporate money, student debt, minimum wage, Wall Street regulation, affordable health care, and climate change action – once dismissed as idealistic — are now mainstream.
For some, however, it’s easier to communicate in political pejoratives, such as slapping the word “radical” on a household flyer.
It’s facile, and it’s beneath him. The Senator should apologize.