JERSEY CITY, NEW JERSEY - When Jersey City, New Jersey, residents vote in Tuesday’s presidential primary, they will call to mind seven infamous words uttered by presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump last November:
“Thousands and thousands of people were cheering.” Trump was referring to the four percent of Jersey City residents that are Muslim, whom he targeted — baselessly — as having celebrated when the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, from across the Hudson River; a vantage point that peers east, directly into the architectural magnificence of lower Manhattan.
Point Pleasant, New Jersey, Young Republican Councilman Michael Thulen, doubts Trump’s description of what happened in New Jersey on 9-11. He was in college at Montclair State University at the time."I don’t recall seeing people cheering myself, not to say it didn’t happen, but days after I traveled through Jersey City helping people out like everyone else, and I don’t recall anybody rejoicing.”
Thulen, who will be attending the Republican convention in Cleveland in July, describes himself as a Trump supporter, but a reluctant one.
In an impromptu news conference at a New Jersey primary day polling station, Republican Governor Chris Christie rejected accusations that Trump is racist by saying, “I’ve known Donald Trump for 14 years and Donald Trump is not a racist."
Before the Twin Towers collapsed, Dr. Rafik Chaudry, a Pakistani-American and longtime resident of Jersey City, remembers feeling as though he were directly underneath, given Jersey City’s proximity to lower Manhattan’s skyline. He was both shocked and concerned when they came down on 9/11.
When Chaudry first learned of Trump’s statement against the city’s Muslim community, he said he hoped Trump would simply admit that he had made a human error.
“After finding the facts, he should have said ‘I am sorry, my facts were not right,’” said Chaudry. “He never admitted he was wrong. How could I vote for a president like that?”
“I am sure if I sat back and thought about it that there would be times that I would think that there were things that he said that he shouldn’t have said," Governor Christie replied when asked if he thought at any point Trump’s rhetoric had gone too far. "Quite frankly he has admitted that over time there are things that he said that he should not have said. ..so that happens to anyone in politics who speaks their mind.”
“When you make up lies and try to use your influence and your power and the media to make those lies facts, that’s what gets people angry,” said Democrat Abe El-Dewak, of Jersey City’s Al Tawheed Islamic Center.
His mosque, according to El-Dewak, simply encourages the community to vote, no matter the candidate. However, he adds, Trump has “a long way” to go in clearing up his comments.
Chaudry says he will be crossing party lines this November to ensure Trump does not ascend to the nation’s highest office.
“I’m going to change parties as soon as I get my hands on that phone,” said Chaudry.
Chaudry, a registered Republican, supports former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for president. But because New Jersey operates under a closed primary system, in which registered voters can only cast ballots for candidates within their party, he will have to wait until the general election in November, when Clinton is likely to be the official democratic party nominee.
When I asked Chaudry if he planned to actively canvass on Clinton’s behalf, he replied, “that’s an understatement. I’ll be very active.”
Blow to the ‘American dream’
Egyptian-American Ahmed Shedeed, president of the Islamic Center of Jersey City agrees, but says what’s more concerning to him is Trump’s rhetoric against minorities everywhere.
“When you hate somebody, you hate everybody,” said Shedeed. “It’s the attack on women, the attack on Mexicans, the attack on immigrants. This is not American at all.”
Shedeed, like Dr. Chaudry, is a registered Republican who is likely to vote for Clinton in November. But in the meantime, he still plans to vote in New Jersey’s Republican primary, just so that he can cast a ballot against Trump.
“I came 36 years ago from my home country to the free world, free America, to live free and to not be criticized because of my way of thinking or the way I look or my color or my religion or my background,” said Shedeed.
“Maybe your father, maybe your grandfather, maybe your great-great-grandfather came to America with that dream.”
For Democrats and Republicans alike, Shedeed insists, the American dream is the same, and one which he vows to uphold through the power of his vote —first on Tuesday, and again on November 8.