Please, please don’t let it be so! It was a refrain echoing throughout the conservative blogosphere for the last couple of days after reports that Governor Chris Christie is sympathizing with terrorist allies.
Say it ain’t so!
It all started on last Thursday when Governor Christie filed a series of nominations for various positions and judgeships. On the list was a holdover from 2010, Sohail Mohammad, who was nominated for a Superior Court judgeship in Passaic County, New Jersey.
The big story is that Mohammad is thought to have ties to terrorism. But is it true?
There are three items from Mohammad’s past that opponents to the nomination point to. (There are many more, but these are the big three.) First, Mohammad was (initially) the lawyer for Mohammad Qatanani. Qatanani is a Muslim cleric who was under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for fraud and terrorist activity.
The alleged fraud was lying on his green card application. You see, he had been detained by Israeli police for three months for allegedly supporting Hamas. On his application he was asked if he had ever been arrested or charged with any crime save for a traffic violation and if he ever in any way was charged or arrested for terrorist activity of any kind. Qatanani answered no to both questions.
The terrorist activity was demonstrated by Qatanani’s alleged membership in Hamas, which under DHS rules qualifies as such.
Sohail Mohammad was the lawyer listed on the DHS Investigative Report. It looks like at some point Qatanani changed lawyers, but initially, it was Mohammad.
Second, after the six men plotting a Fort Dix terror attack were arrested, Sohail Mohammad was quoted as saying (emphasis added):
“If these people did something, then they deserve to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, but when the government says `Islamic militants,’ it sends a message to the public that Islam and militancy are synonymous. Don’t equate actions with religion.”
Third, Sohail Mohammad has represented many Muslims who are facing deportation for overstaying or otherwise violating their Visas.
It’s also noteworthy that there are other reported connections with various groups that Mohammad has maintained, many of which seem sympathetic to the radical Muslim movement, or groups who take the opposite tact of severely criticizing US government anti-terror policies, like the American Muslim Union has. Mohammed served as the general counsel for that group.
On the other side, there is evidence that suggests Mohammed has gone out of his way to help bring Muslims into the American community to a greater extent. As reported by the AP:
Mr. Mohammed helped arrange a law enforcement job fair at a Paterson mosque in which young Muslims were encouraged to apply for jobs with law enforcement agencies. The session also featured a question-and-answer session for mosque members with the police and prosecutors.
He was also asked to give many training sessions to F.B.I. agents on Islam and Muslim culture.
So what does all this mean? Why is it important? Do the claims of Mohammed’s “ties to terrorism” hold water? And the real questions: Is this person suitable for a Superior Court judgeship? Is Chris Christie making a bad decision?
The first count, that Sohail was the lawyer for Qatanani, is problematic, but to make it disqualifying, we need to wait until the case is fully adjudicated. First, it is clear that Sohail Mohammad is comfortable trying to help people with obvious ties to terrorism. There are defense attorneys all over the country representing bad apples, that’s what America is all about. But he was not a public defender. He was willingly helping Qatanani. The result? The judge ruled in favor of Qatanani! So although noted experts like Steve Emerson claim Qatanani is knee deep in terrorist ties, the guy had his day in court and was found not-guilty. The back story is a little disturbing, acquittal notwithstanding.
But that’s not the end of this story. The Immigration Board of Appeals has rejected the favorable ruling, sending the case back down to the court. The judge made his ruling on Qatanani by discounting, in large measure, the evidence provided by Israeli police and intelligence. The Board stated that the Israeli reports were, in fact, credible. Looks like this isn’t over yet.
And we continue pursuing the pertinent question… is this the guy we want on the bench?
The second point is problematic and in our opinion, disqualifying. Mohammad doesn’t think we should say “Islamic militants” to describe, well, Islamic militants. Making a public call to scrub language is severely damaging to not just our culture, but also to our ability to effectively fight terrorism.
Strange bedfellows, but the American left and Muslim extremist apologists seem to be in lock step on this: change the language and deflect from the real issue. It doesn’t matter to Sohail that the Fort Dix Six were all Muslim men from Turkey, Jordan and Yugoslavia. Does it matter that the 9/11 hijackers were Muslim? I guess the fact that Major Hasan, the Fort Hood murderer, was Muslim was incidental too?
Bill O’Reilly was recently hammered by the left for making the obvious connection between Islam and terrorism. As Bill would say, to not do so would be ridiculous.
When we can’t call a spade a spade, we can’t possibly find solutions to problems. Without acknowledging the problem that exists in the Muslim world, how can we work toward ending Islamic extremism?
If Mohammed doesn’t see the connection between Islam and terrorism, he is either not capable of reasonable, rational thought, or he is willfully distorting the obvious to further his public policy objectives – whatever they may be.
Lastly, Mohammad has, in part, made his living by representing people who have immigration problems. In particular, he has represented those who are Muslim and have overstayed or violated the terms of their Visas. On its face, no big deal…someone has to do it. But in context, a pattern emerges. Does it matter that as the National Review reported, 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers should not have been granted Visas in the first place? Does it matter that four of the 9/11 terrorists were here illegally on expired Visas? In context, I think it does. But to be fair, Visa problems are very real. Navigating the federal bureaucracy is difficult in the best scenario. One would be foolish not to hire an attorney to help.
What we’re left with is a man who is not a terrorist but is clearly comfortable with highly suspect relations. The Qatanani case is troubling. Although the judge originally ruled in his favor, the Israelis did detain him for 3 months. We don’t know that back story, so it’s a tough call – clearly the Israelis thought he did something. And now we find out that the Board of Immigration is strongly contesting the ruling. So, it hasn’t been fully adjudicated, but the stakes are so high, it lowers the bar. If this man were applying for a job as legal counsel for a non-profit, or as a law professor somewhere, it may not be an issue.
Instead, we have a Governor who thought that this person would make a good addition to the New Jersey Superior Court bench.
Even putting aside Mohammad’s questionable judgment in his associations, what about the opportunity cost of his nomination? Chris Christie could well have nominated a strong conservative to the judgeship. The judiciary is an area that the left has exploited time and again when the legislative process doesn’t serve their ends.
Aside from the opportunity cost for the conservative movement, what about Christie’s personal opportunity? As it happens, Passaic county is home to nearly half a million Muslims. Could this have something to do with it? Christie doesn’t come off as the calculating, consummate, politician type. But we have a healthy cynicism toward politicians of all party affiliations. We can’t hold Christie to an impossible standard; there is no evidence to suggest that the nomination is purely political. Still, that cynicism exists.
Our problem with this nomination is not the shrill “Sharia will take over in NJ courts.” Rather, that Mohammed seems to have an issue with observing the obvious connection between Islam and terror and also that he advocates censorship to shield Islam from criticism, even when it is deserved. Set in a background of what could have been a very strong conservative nomination to the bench, we have to oppose the Mohammed choice.
The bottom line, Chris Christie is making a bad choice. He should not move forward with this nomination and instead, find a suitable conservative for the Superior Court seat.
Update: 4:37pm EST 1/20/11 – Governor Christie’s press office declined to comment on the nomination, saying only that they are in the early stages of the nomination process. The press office further stated that they did not know when or if they would publicly comment on the nomination.