Something remarkable happened in New Jersey last week. A politician stood up and, refusing to bow to the prevailing political winds that seem to demand the demonization of Muslims, told the truth. And for that he deserves a great deal of credit.
Last week New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his nomination of Muslim-American attorney Sohail Mohammed to sit as a judge on the New Jersey Superior Court.
The nomination, announced in January of this year, had sparked the now-predictable uproar about Shariah law, and the risks that Muslims pose to the American way of life.
In a refreshingly blunt display, Gov. Christie accurately identified the source of this criticism as “ignorance,” the fear that Shariah law poses some threat to the citizens of New Jersey as “crazy,” and the questions Mohammed was asked during his confirmation hearings as “disgusting.” In short, he said, “I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.” Christie then went on to tout Mohammed’s qualifications, to praise his critical role in building trust between federal law enforcement and Muslim leaders in the wake of 9/11, and to extol his competent and zealous representation of his clients as a member of the New Jersey bar—including clients who were, as Christie acknowledged, “improperly detained” by the FBI after 9/11. Christie then went on to state the obvious: He was proud to nominate Mohammed because “he’s a good lawyer and an outstanding human being,” and opposition to the nomination based on Mohammed’s religious background is “just unnecessary.”
Christie is not the only one tired of the crazies. All too often of late, political conversations regarding the role of American Muslims devolve into Islamophobic accusations and expressions of irrational fear of Islamic law. Even members of Congress whose own constituents include sizeable communities of patriotic, law-abiding American Muslims have embraced this poisonous rhetoric. More American leaders need to display the same courage and common sense as Gov. Christie, rejecting the tendency to cast suspicion on an entire community based on the actions of an infinitesimal number of its members.
The Obama Administration recently added another strong voice to this effort. In its recently released strategy to counter radicalization, President Obama recognized that
“[a]ctions and statements that cast suspicion toward entire communities, promote hatred and division, and send messages to certain Americans that they are somehow less American because of their faith or how they look, reinforce violent extremist propaganda and feed the sense of disenchantment and disenfranchisement that may spur violent extremist radicalization.
Perhaps this is a sign that government officials are coming to realize the harm that such actions and statements can cause. As Gov. Christie’s description of Judge Mohammed’s role in bringing together federal officials and the Muslim-American community illustrates, the cooperation of Muslim leaders can yield invaluable benefits to American counterterrorism efforts. But in order to reap these benefits, law enforcement must treat Muslims as partners, not as suspects.
Christie said that he was “happy that [Mohammed is still] willing to serve after all this baloney” because his time on the bench will benefit the citizens of New Jersey. We should all be happy for that. It takes courage to rise above the type of vilification and unwarranted criticism that American Muslims often endure. We can hope that statements such as Gov. Christie’s and President Obama’s soon become the rule rather than the exception, thereby rendering such displays of courage unnecessary.