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Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday slammed the anti-Muslim “crazies” who have raised objections to his nomination of a Muslim lawyer to become a state Superior Court judge.
“Ignorance is behind the criticism of Sohail Mohammad,” Christie said in response to a reporter’s question at a Thursday press conference. “Sohail Mohammad is an extraordinary American who is an outstanding lawyer and played an integral role in the post-September 11th period in building bridges between the Muslim American community in this state and law enforcement.
“I was there for it,” Christie continued. “I saw it personally. And the folks who criticize my appointment of Sohail Mohammad are ignorant, absolutely ignorant of that, and they’re criticizing him because he is a Muslim American, and because he represented people who were inappropriately detained by the FBI post 9/11.”
Critics have used the very track record Christie cited to depict Mohammad, an Indian-American, as a radical unfit for the bench. Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism in January derided Mohammad as a “longtime mouthpiece for radical Islamists.” Emerson traced Mohammad’s career back to his work as an immigration lawyer on behalf of Arab men who were detained after 9/11, then cleared by the FBI of any terrorism-related charges – only to be kept in custody on immigration charges. In November 2001, Mohammad’s clients threatened to start a hunger strike to protest their continued detention during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Emerson’s critique also noted that one of Mohammad’s clients was Mohammad Ahmad Hasan Qatanani, imam of one of New Jersey’s largest mosques, accused by the U.S. government of having once been a member of the terrorist organization Hamas. A judge sided with Qatanani and granted him permanent residency, although the case is still under appeal.
Nothing in Emerson’s report suggested that Mohammad did anything personally, or in his capacity as counsel, that might disqualify him for a judgeship.
Christie pointed out that many people were wrongly arrested during that time, and that none of Mohammad’s post-9/11 clients were charged with crimes of terrorism. Christie added that Mohammad set up “dozens of meetings” between government and law enforcement officials and members of the Muslim-American community to build lines of trust.
A reporter asked Christie a question about Shariah law, which only fired up the governor’s frustration. “Shariah law has nothing to do with this at all. It’s crazy. It’s crazy. The guy is an American citizen … and has never been accused of doing anything but honorably and zealously acquitting the oath he took when he became a lawyer. … This Shariah law business is crap. It’s just crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies. It’s just unnecessary to be accusing this guy of things just because of his religious background. … I’m happy that he’s willing to serve after all this baloney.”