One of the troubling tendencies that has recently arisen among conservatism is an unfair animus toward Muslim Americans. This has found its most disturbing expression in GOP presidential candidate (and Tea Party favorite) Herman Cain, whose anti-Muslim bias runs so deep that it overrides his regard for our Constitution (see here:) Cain, for example, has declared he would not appoint a Muslim either to his cabinet or as a federal judge and also insisted on a “loyalty proof” for Muslim Americans.
Thankfully, this anti-Muslim strain isn’t dominant within conservatism. But what is discouraging is how few GOP lawmakers and conservative voices have been willing to confront it. Which is why I’m grateful New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spoke out in defense of his appointment of Sohail Mohammed to a state bench.
“Ignorance is behind the criticism of Sohail Mohammed,” Governor Christie told reporters asking him about the complaints that Mohammed defended Muslim Americans who were wrongly arrested in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. “He is an extraordinary American who is an outstanding lawyer and played an integral role in the post-September 11 period in building bridges between the Muslim American community in this state and law enforcement,” Christie said, adding he was “disgusted, candidly, by some of the qustions he was asked by both parties at the Senate Judiciary Committee. I thought it was awful.”
Governor Christie, being Governor Christie, didn’t stop there. When asked about concerns about sharia law in the context of the Mohammed appointment, Christie added, “Sharia law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. The guy’s an American citizen who has been an admitted lawyer to practice in the state of New Jersey swearing an oath to uphold the laws of New Jersey, the Constitution of the state of New Jersey, and the Constitution of the United States of America.”
Sharia law has “nothing to do with Sohail Mohammed,” Christie added emphatically. “It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background, and that’s what it’s because of.”
If any individual of any faith is engaging in activities that threaten the well-being of Americans, that is, of course, a serious concern. But remember this, too: one of the remarkable achievements of America is our tolerance and respect for people of different faiths. To put the burden of proof on Muslims to prove their loyalty to America, simply because they are Muslim, is the antithesis of the spirit of the American founding. And to target people simply because of their religious faith – to assume that (in Michael Gerson’s words) every Muslim is a recruit for sedition – is a direct assault on the very Constitution conservatives say we revere.
It’s one thing, and a laudable thing, not to participate in this ugliness. But it’s another thing, and a far more admirable thing, to stand against it. My former boss, President Bush, did this in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. And now, thankfully, Governor Chris Christie has as well.