On A Cruel Mission: State Senator Cardinale’s Muslim Bashing
A graduate of Islamophobia University: New Jersey State Senator Gerald Cardinale (R-Demarest) is already putting what he learned into practice: a penchant for fearing everything Muslim. It seems his dictionary has a uniquely xenophobic meaning for ‘American Muslim.” Cardinale’s Islamophobia, fear and suspicion of American Muslims, surfaced twice in 2007, first in the appointment by then Governor John Corzine of Arab American businessman Sami Merhi to the Educational Facilities Authority, and second, during his 2007 reelection campaign and recently during the judicial confirmation hearings of Sohail Mohammed for a Superior Court judgeship in Passaic County. In 2007, he succeeded in derailing Merhi’s appointment and by getting reelected. Consequently Cardinale believed he could employ his tactics again to solidify his anti Muslim reputation. He needs to reflect on rather than celebrate what he did.
Cardinale’s sickening obsession with Muslim bashing surfaced during the last week of his 2007reelection campaign against a newcomer Democratic challenger, Joseph Aryan. The ironic twist is that Cardinale did not accuse his opponent of being soft on terrorism. Cardinale levied these unfounded charges against the media spokesperson of ADC, the Arab organization Ariyyan’s law partner was heading. That his opponent had an Arab American law partner was sufficient for Cardinale to accuse his opponent of supporting terrorism. This is the worst form of racial profiling and stereotyping.
Guilt by association, farfetched as this case illustrates, was put to use here in a most crude but sadly successful fashion. As Alfred Doblin opined in (“Nothing to fear but Cardinale”), Cardinale’s fear of losing his seat blinded him enough to fabricate a baseless story about the Arab background of Ariyyan’s law partner. Cardinale’s campaign literature charged that a “vote for Ariyyan” would “equate with a vote for terrorism is about as low as Cardinale could have stooped. The pit-bull was jowl-deep in muck.” Cardinale won easily and this realization confirms the inherent danger exhibited by lawmakers who spew vicious charges in the name of national security. He would later admit in an editorial that he based his information solely on Internet sites known for their anti Muslim tilt.
My response to Cardinale’s unfounded statements was swift. “The link between Arab heritage and terrorism may have swayed some to vote for candidates like Cardinale. But the long-term harm of perpetuating doubt about the loyalty and hidden agenda of Arab- and Muslim-Americans will continue to haunt us.”
As Bruce Lowry of the Record reported, the Senator was the lone questioner whose focus was on Sohail Mohammed’s faith. Moreover, during the hearings in Trenton, the Senator brought out his bagful of questions on matters that had nothing to do with Mohammed’s qualification to be a competent and fair judge. The one-hour tough questioning was ‘a despicable display for any time by any state lawmaking body in this country.”
While the full Senate, including Cardinale, formally and unanimously voted for Mohammed’s nomination, New Jersey, I should note, leads the nation in the number of appointed American Muslim judges. The Muslim community, which numbers more than 600,000, however, is years away from reaching adequate representation in government jobs and elected positions.
The silliness of Cardinale reached its zenith with his questions about Sharia, the Islamic religious code that defines the proper conduct of a Muslim. Benefiting from the mudslinging of right wing bloggers, our Senator brought up the now famous case of a 2008 decision by a Superior Court Judge who ruled for a defendant accused of beating and raping his wife because the husband was “acting within the norms of Muslim practice.” The verdict was overturned. But it was a Christian judge who ruled for the wife-beating husband. I do not suspect that Judge Mohammed will replace our Constitution with Islamic laws.
Admittedly, Muslims should not be immune to being questioned about their views when they seek public positions. I am certain our judges were carefully vetted before being nominated. But they should not suffer religious lynching at the hands of public officials who have sworn to uphold the Constitution.
No judge, Muslim or otherwise, can be allowed to uphold any but our secular constitutional laws. Notwithstanding, Muslim judges, like Christian and Jewish ones, have a constitutionally protected right to religious belief and speech. They can believe whatever they want or believe in nothing at all. But all words become liable to criminal or civil prosecution if their beliefs turn into illegal actions. We often fail to consider that, no matter what our faith may be, religious believers are subject to secular law when they turn their faith into action. A judge’s religious convictions may conceivably come into play so long they conform to the letter and intent of the applicable law.
American Muslims do not ask for or expect special preferential treatment because of their faith. They demand and deserve the same opportunity to serve our country and enjoy its bountiful freedoms and opportunities. When the opportunity avails itself, they will shine.
Dr. Aref Assaf, President of American Arab Forum, a think-tank specializing in Arab and Muslim American affairs. www.aafusa.org