New Jersey/ July 30
By Adam Rizvi, Hate speech, racial slurs — it seems, multiculturalism has not rubbed in the lessons it should have on America. And the tirades are not limited to the Internet. Two long-standing Radio hosts of a leading channel of New Jersey were taken off air after repeatedly referring to the country’s first Sikh state attorney general as Turban Man live on air.
The matter has blown into a major controversy now with the New Jersey Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal taking strong exception to them addressing him thus. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has termed the remarks by New Jersey RJs 101.5’s Dennis Malloy and Judi Franco as “abhorrent and xenophobic.”
Later in the week, New Jersey’s attorney general, Gurbir Grewal broke his silence to the media on the controversy.
Having always maintained an outspoken stand against discrimination throughout his career, Grewal it is obvious that the first question raised is how he reacted he heard those words come through the radio.
“I have spoken on multicultural differences and discrimination throughout my life. But what made this issue different was that the remarks were not just addressed to me. It was addressed to a person in public office representing a community. It was heard across New Jersey,” he avers, accepting that “the fact that it went live on radio for the state to hear, was disturbing for me. I have a high-profile job. What really affected me was that there are many other people in the state wearing turbans like me who would not be able to stomach this as I do. They would be offended and they do not have the benefit of the same security I have. They will be affected really deeply by these types of comments, particularly kids, other Sikh kids who might have to face racist slurs at school and in their neighborhood.”
Asked if he has, in his position as the first Sikh state Attorney General in U.S. history felt responsible to educate people about his faith and felt it his responsibility to represent his faith Grewal says, “It’s not just about me representing for my faith. I think it’s also about standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. For me my faith is a personal matter. But, by virtue of being a Sikh, it is something that I wear openly. And people know that I am a Sikh. Whenever I can, I do explain to people the concepts of my religion. It is important to me and motivates me on in a personal and professional way, I do carry it in my mind that I represent many of my community. I need to stand up on their behalf. We live in a multicultural country and it is important for people to be sensitive to others’ feelings and faiths.”
For Grewal, on his own admission, “In a lot of ways, being a Sikh means, to me, being a natural-born public servant and standing up for, in the case of my work, on behalf of DACA recipients, standing up against the DACA repeal, standing up against an unconstitutional travel ban, standing up against family separation, standing up against any sort of hate and bigotry that we see in this state.”
Mention the 30-odd lawsuits specifically challenging Trump administration policies filed or joined by him, Grewal says he has not made it his mission to challenge this administration, and as chief law enforcement officer, he would love to concentrate all his time in New Jersey, “but, unfortunately, New Jersey is also under attack from Washington. So we have to stand up for the thousands of DACA recipients in this state whose lives are being jeopardized. I feel it is important that we stand up against the travel ban, which is affecting Muslim residents of New Jersey. We have to stand up on so many different issues because there’s so much coming out of Washington at this point.”
It’s touching a raw nerve but it is a question that must be asked. As a father, what did he say to his here daughters about what they had just heard on the radio?
“My response to the remarks from the radio hosts earlier was to tweet: “This is my name. This is my position. I’m a Sikh American.” Yes, I have three daughters. I told them to turn off the radio.”
“Radio hosts are free to criticize me and call me out on policies that they don’t like. I have had the enormous privilege to serve the residents of this state. But we could do it in a sensitive, thoughtful, courteous and respectful manner. That’s what I teach my kids. And if I had the opportunity to talk to these radio hosts, that’s what I would say to them,” he concludes. “I would think they could benefit by joining in a community meeting, where I go talk to residents in the state who have been affected by hate and bias crimes. But I would welcome the opportunity to show them how hateful comments are now turning into hateful conduct in parts of this state, and how we all have a responsibility at this moment to act better. That’s the message I sent to my daughters. That’s the message I try to portray through my work. That’s the message I will continue to stand up for as attorney general of New Jersey.”
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Inputs by Dr. Shirin Abbas