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Confusion and outrage after 'anti-Muslim truck' circles mosques in New Jersey

Muslim community and politicians call for an investigation after truck becomes latest act of intimidation in Garden State
The truck is said to have entered the parking areas of at least two Islamic centres (Screengrab)
By Azad Essa in Newark, New Jersey

A mobile billboard truck emblazoned with anti-Muslim images that drove around the state of New Jersey and parked outside at least three Islamic centres last weekend was a deliberate attempt to intimidate and demonise the community, Muslim activists and community leaders have said.

According to the Council for American Islamic Relations, New Jersey (Cair-NJ), a mobile billboard truck entered the parking lot of the Muslim Center of Middlesex County in Piscataway and the New Brunswick Islamic Center last Saturday, broadcasting video and photos from the horrific Mumbai attacks in India that killed at least 175 people in late November 2008. 

According to footage reviewed by MEE, the truck also stopped outside the Muslim Community of New Jersey Masjid in Fords, where it parked outside the entrance of the mosque and flashed scenes of explosions, names and faces of suspects responsible for the attacks and other messages of hate for 45 minutes, activists say.

One of the signs on the rotating billboard read: "Mumbai 26/11: We won't forgive. We won't forget." Another read: "Men, women and children or elderly, no one was spared by LeT terrorists who entered India via sea on a boat."

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The Mumbai attacks took place over four days in late November 2008. Saturday marked the first day of the attack, 14 years ago, which India blamed on the Pakistan-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Dina Sayedahmed, Cair-NJ's communication manager, condemned the incidents, describing them as "deliberate and well coordinated" and "with intent".

"The perpetrator of this designed several anti-Muslim posters, rented a truck with an electronic billboard to display them, and then drove to at least two Islamic centres, displaying these vile and anti-Muslim messages both at the Islamic centere as well as on the road," she told Middle East Eye.

Disgusted by 'act of bigotry'

This week, several politicians, including a US senator and two assemblywomen, issued statements of condemnation and called for an investigation.

On Tuesday, US Senator Bob Menendez said he was "disgusted by this act of bigotry".

"Let me be clear: New Jersey stands with our Muslim community and will always defend your right to worship freely and without fear of harassment and intimidation," Menendez said in a tweet.

Likewise, Assemblywomen Shama Haider and Sadaf Jaffer called the incident "a stunt" and said "this sort of hate had no place in New Jersey".

The incidents in New Jersey on Saturday were followed by a similar act of intimidation directed at the Sikh community in the Connecticut.

On Monday, a mobile billboard truck was spotted in the town of Norwich, Connecticut, in which the images on the truck accused Pakistan of fueling a Sikh rebellion in the Indian state of Punjab.

According to a Fox61 report, one of the rotating images showed a man in a turban carrying what appeared to be a semi-automatic weapon along with an oversized ammunition belt. According to the report, both the Department of Justice and the FBI have opened an investigation into the matter.

“I think these kinds of things could lead to serious violence,” Gurpreet Singh, a resident of Norwich, told Fox61.

One of the images on the truck seen in Norwich (Screengrab)
One of the images on the truck seen in Norwich (Screengrab)

That incident comes three months after a bulldozer, bearing the images of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, rolled through the streets of Edison and Woodridge during the India Day parade in August.

Like the truck, the bulldozer stopped outside Muslim-owned businesses and left the Muslim community in the vicinity feeling intimidated and concerned for their safety.

Bulldozers are synonymous with the destruction of activists and political dissidents' homes, particularly Muslim-owned homes in India. 

Adityanath's reputation for the tactic has earned him the moniker of Bulldozer Baba ("Daddy Bulldozer").

"It appears the imagery on the truck was trying to link Muslims with the attacks in Mumbai and we had nothing to do with it," Minhaj Khan, an activist with the Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC), told MEE.

"Instead of trying to build bridges on independence day, they brought a bulldozer and they tried to intimidate us, and now they brought this truck during a national day of mourning at a place of worship... It was appalling."

In Edison, organisers were forced to apologise for the bulldozer following an outcry and national coverage but those closely following the events in the state say that Hindutva, or Hindu nationalism, is deeply embedded in states such as New Jersey, Texas and California. 

Earlier this week, Cair-NJ and members of the Muslim Center of Middlesex County held a joint press conference in Piscataway to demand a response to the incident.

"While everyone - even bigots - has the right to free speech, no-one has the right to target religious minorities, especially at their houses of worship, with acts of perceived intimidation and harassment," Cair-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said in a statement.

The Piscataway police department told MEE the matter was now with the Attorney General's office. 

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