Chris Christie

By Jeffrey Goldberg
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Governor of New Jersey
Trenton, New Jersey

Calling out “the crazies,” a GOP governor slams those inciting anti-Muslim bigotry under the guise of fighting terrorism.

When Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, came under attack in some conservative circles for nominating a Muslim American attorney for a superior-court judgeship in Passaic County, he faced three options. The first option was to distance himself from the nominee, or withdraw the nomination. The nominee, a man named Sohail Mohammed, was a bit of a controversial figure, for defending, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, Muslims arrested by the FBI. Critics, including members of the state senate, darkly insinuated that Mohammed was a radical, interested in imposing Muslim law, or Sharia, on American courts.

The second option was to allow the state senate to vote on the nomination, but say nothing about the controversy, and hope that the issue faded from view. After all, Christie is a Republican, and is frequently mentioned as a plausible 2012 presidential contender. In the Republican Party as currently constituted, a governor who advocates for a Muslim who defended other, even ephemerally suspicious, Muslims (none of Mohammed’s clients was ever accused of committing an act of terrorism) might be ill-served politically by such a putatively unsavory association.

Brave Thinkers 2011The third option, the one Christie chose, was to argue Mohammed’s case loudly and vigorously, and to excoriate his critics as fools and bigots. Here’s a bit of what Christie had to say, in reaction to the charges: “This Sharia-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.” When I spoke with Christie shortly after Mohammed was finally approved for the judgeship in August, he criticized Mohammed’s detractors for offering no proof at all that Mohammed was anything other than a good lawyer. “I believe the determination about someone needs to be made on facts, not feelings.”

Christie is a law-and-order Republican, and a former federal prosecutor who has tried his share of terrorism cases. At the same time, he is a man who stands up for the rule of law, and for the proposition that most Muslim Americans are model Americans. He himself, then, is a model, of what a warrior in the fight against terrorism should be.


Illustration: Anje Jager

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/11/chris-christie/308689/