By: Dr. Aref Assaf
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has been an outspoken critic of Muslim haters in the US. Whether it was the lunatics who opposed the so-called Ground Zero mosque in lower Manhattan, the Quran burner, the anti-Sharia legislation “crazies”, Congressman Peter King’s ‘radicalization’ hearings, the NYPD’s spying on millions of American Muslim citizens or his public support of Paterson’s Imam Mohammad Qatanani – on all these fronts, Governor Christie has defied the public sentiments and even sidestepped his own party’s rhetoric when he chastised bigoted statements and policies aimed at American Muslims. Now that he is set to deliver the keynote speech at this year’s Republican convention in Tampa, Florida, we expect his continued leadership on this topic.
To remove the stigma of Republican hate for everything Muslim, it will require a giant like Chris Christie. The question will be of timing rather than conviction. Can Christie speak truth to his political core? The GOP platform, approved recently, will include a plank supporting a ban on the use of foreign law (including Sharia, or Islamic law) in U.S. courtrooms. Christie is on record for having opposed such legal maneuverings to restrict the use of Islamic code under limited conditions and where the protagonists are consenting Muslims. Supporters have long argued that, and the planks sponsors readily admit, targets the religious beliefs of American Muslims. A cursory review of the anti-Sharia plank reveals that it modeled on the more than 78 or so bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide based on draft legislation originally promoted by David Yerushalmi, an infamous Islamophobe with a history of making bigoted statements targeting women, African Americans, and people of the Jewish faith. It is worth noting that the passage of the anti-Sharia plank in this year’s Republican platform only confirms the growing anti-Muslim rhetoric espoused by so many Republican politicians and other public officials. All the anti-Sharia bills introduced in state legislatures were sponsored by Republican legislators- without exception. Only 14% of Americans, however, believe that American Muslims ultimately want to establish Sharia or Islamic law as law of the land. Muslims resort to certain Sharia codes in limited commercial and matrimonial cases, so long as the decisions rendered do not supersede or conflict with the US Constitution. Extensive legal and academic coverage of this topic has begun in earnest.
The anti-Sharia plank was adopted without argument or debate during a meeting of the Republican Party’s platform committee. The policy statement was introduced by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an anti-immigration activist who also wrote Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 “papers please” law. (Watch video here) The Kansas law Kobach spoke of at the platform committee meeting, which Muslim organizations have already challenged as unconstitutional and discriminatory, was derived from Yerushalmi’s template. Kansas legislators acknowledged that the bill targeted Muslims. In March of 2012, we successfully dissuaded the NJ state legislature to withdraw a similar bill she introduced.
While RNC platforms rarely make the official position of the elected president of the United States, the inclusion of such clearly anti Muslim language, especially with little or no objections, portends a serious divide between the rank and file Republicans and their leaders on the one hand, and American Muslims on the other – many of whom are also Republican voters. Christie has the opportunity to reclaim the moral compass of not only the Republican Party, but also that of America.
Included in the State’s delegation to the Convention is Sherine Al-Abd, An Egyptian Muslim delegate. She will be listening to her hero governor erase her doubts about the party’s anti-Muslim stance. I, the rest of America and indeed the Muslim world will be watching. As quoted in the Record, “They didn’t pick me and think I was going to come here and be something different than what I’ve been.” Amen!
Aref Assaf, president of American Arab Forum
I am disappointed in my Governor’s RNC speech for a lot of reasons least of which his failure to remove the stigma of republican Muslim hatemongering. I sensed the Governor was constrained and his demeanor portending at least a strife with the Romney team over the content of his speech. This was not the typical NJ town hall Governor speaking extemporaneously. But my sense of disappointment grew deeper when he at 10:56 p.m said: “You see, Mr. President – real leaders don’t follow polls. Real leaders change polls.” I suddenly felt a jolt that the real Christi was waking up. But instead of pursuing a mission of setting a new direction for America, he fell for the pettiness of his own Party’s rhetoric by blaming the Democrats for the ills of America. Sorry governor, I struggled to keep the remote on CSPAN while you were center stage. I still have faith in you and America is not done with you.
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