This week, considerable attention has been paid to presidential hopeful Herman Cain’s statements – first reported by ThinkProgress — that he would not appoint any Muslims to his cabinet if elected because “I get upset when the Muslims in this country, some of them, try to force their Sharia law onto the rest of us.”
Cain’s Islamophobia sadly fits into a pattern of conservative attacks on the Muslim faith. In recent months, Rep. Allen West (R-FL), who has said that “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology,” is now a star within the Republican Party. Rep. Peter King held controversial hearings depicting mainstream Muslim groups as enablers of terrorism. And in 2007, likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney reportedly said he would not appoint any Muslims to his national security team if elected president.
But one prominent Republican is bucking the trend: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. As ThinkProgress noted earlier this year, Christie appointed Sohail Mohammed to serve on the New Jersey Superior Court. Mohammed is an immigration lawyer who defended many Muslims caught up in post-Sept. 11 dragnets. Yesterday, Christie was challenged at a town hall about the appointment, and offered a stirring defense:
“If it is disqualifying for the bench to be an Arab-American in New Jersey who represents innocent people and gets them released, then this isn’t the state I believe it is,” Christie said. “I’ve known this man for 10 years. He’s a good, decent American and New Jerseyan, he’s an outstanding lawyer, and he deserves the opportunity to be on the bench. I am proud to have nominated him.”
When Christie first appointed Mohammed, right-wing reaction was fierce. In a widely linked post, blogger Daniel Greenfield wrote that “New Jersey, the Garden State, has just taken its first step toward becoming the Sharia State,” and criticized Christie for being “willing to stand up to the teacher’s union, but not to the terrorist’s union.” It’s hard to imagine the xenophobic elements on the right will be moved by Christie’s latest rousing defense of his Muslim appointee.