GOP Tennessee Governor Blasts Critics Of Muslim Adviser

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R)

Tennessee’s Republican Governor, Bill Haslam, has had it with attacks on an economic adviser, Samar Ali, a Muslim-American lawyer, who has been attacked by Republicans in the state and anti-Islam groups. Speaking at a Republican event, the governor was asked, according to the AP, whether “he was incorporating elements of Islamic law into state government” in having Ali as part of his staff. Haslam, incredulous, responded with a soaring defense of the accomplished Ali:

“Samar is somebody who quite frankly I think — and I know there are some people in this room who disagree with me — that I think has been incredibly unfairly maligned. We believe in people having the freedom in our country to exercise their religion as long as it doesn’t violate the Constitution, and that’s a big ‘as long as’.”

Indeed, for the past six months, local groups have launched vicious attacks against Ali, including the GOP in Stewart County, TN, which wrote an outrageous resolution in July on Ali saying she was “an expert in Sharia Compliant Finance which is one of the many ways Islamic terrorism is funded.” Two other counties joined in the condemnation. Even local candidates, like Woody Degan, who was then running for a Republican state senate seat, said Ali’s main function in the governor’s office was to bring in “Sharia money” and to make the office “Sharia compliant.” Degan added, “we’re going to let them bring it into Tennessee and let those proceeds go back to kill our boys.” The Center for Security Policy, an organization run by anti-Islam activist Frank Gaffney, pushed the preposterous charges, saying that the hiring meant that “financial jihadists will soon be targeting the Volunteer state for infiltration and influence operations.”

Ali’s impeccable credentials include Vanderbilt Law School, a clerkship at the Sixth District Court of Appeals, and a White House Fellowship. The anger stems from the fact that Ali interned for three months at an Islamic bank in Abu Dhabi. In addition, Ali helped her former law firm with Sharia compliant financing and was also a founding member of the firm’s branch in Abu Dhabi.

But Sharia compliant finance, as CAP’s Matt Duss noted in 2009, is not known as a fringe, terrorist funding activity instead it is “a very fast-growing industry, growing by about 35 percent to 40 percent per year. And the reason more and more banks are getting into the sharia-compliant finance game is that they’ve discovered — and you should prepare yourselves for the sinister tale I’m about to unfold — that there’s a huge, under-served customer base.” Major western banks like Deutsche Bank and HSBC have taken advantage of the $700 billion industry.

Still, that’s beside the point: the spokesman for the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development, where Ali works, told a local paper that “no part of her job here involves finance or even Shariah finance,” and that she “doesn’t practice law on behalf of the department.”

Politifact Tennessee pushed Degan, the state senate candidate, for evidence of his claims against Ali. He responded, “the evidence is in what she does…. I’m concerned, yes. Do I have evidence? No.”

Other Tennesseans like Republican state senator Mark Norris, who Degan ran against and lost to, have also slammed the criticism, telling a local paper that people like Degan are just trying “to scare people by picking on somebody whose last name is different than theirs.”

This isn’t the first time Islamophobes have criticized a Republican governor’s Muslim appointee: last year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended a Muslim judge he nominated by saying, “it’s just crazy. And I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.” Christie has also said, “I’ll tell you that there is a gaze of intolerance that is going around our country that is disturbing to me.”