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Chris Christie Dodges Criticism on His Support of Islamists

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Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie said that criticism of his record on sharia is “Internet blog B.S” when asked about it on March 29 at a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Las Vegas. His office then uploaded the video to its YouTube page, presumably proud of his answer and the applause that followed.

Christie’s comment was part of a passionate five-minute answer to a question about his alleged support for sharia. He disingenuously claimed that the criticism is all about Sohail Mohammed, an Indian Muslim and naturalized citizen who he appointed as a Superior Court Judge in 2011.

“This is really perplexing to me, I have to tell you. This all came from me appointing a Muslim man to the state court bench in N.J.,” he began.

He then defended Mohammed for a few minutes, before condemning how Mohammed was asked about jihad before the N.J. State Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Sohail Mohammed knows about just as much about jihad as I do…Sohail Mohammed knows just about as much about sharia Law as I do,” Christie said, inferring his own ignorance on the issue.

Christie did not mention that Mohammed was an attorney for Imam Mohammed Qatanani, a radical cleric linked to Hamas that the Department of Homeland Security wants to deport from the country. Mohammed was also the General Counsel for the American Muslim Union, a group closely tied to Qatanani’s mosque, the Islamic Center of Passaic County. The mosque continues to be an outreach partner of the Christie Administration.

Christie is definitely aware of the negative attention he’s receiving because of his own defense of Qatanani because he furiously blasted critics of Qatanani as anti-Muslim “bigots” that are part of a “gaze of intolerance that’s going around our country that’s disturbing.” Of course, he decided not to mention that part of the issue.

Christie finished:

“It is ridiculous and insulting that because I nominated Sohail Mohammed that people somehow think that means I am for sharia law. It’s crap. It’s the only way I can describe It … sharia law will not come to New Jersey because of Sohail Mohammed and as long as I’m governor, it won’t come into our state for any other reason and to suggest otherwise is nothing more than Internet blog B.S.”

If that’s true, then the Department of Homeland Security is full of anti-Muslim bigots who rely on “Internet blog B.S.” Here’s what DHS had to say about Qatanani in a 2008 court filing:

“It is certainly suspicious when a person who has been convicted of being a member of, and providing services, to Hamas, who has personal ties to a Hamas militant leader, and a Hamas fundraiser also sends undisclosed cash to the West Bank.”

A report by the N.J. Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness described the existence of a network of Hamas sympathizers in the state and only mentioned one name: Imam Mohammed Qatanani, who Christie has staunchly defended from deportation and praises as a friend.

In November 2012, the Clarion Project discovered that four Islamists with extremist track records, including Qatanani, were members of the Muslim Outreach Committee formed by the N.J. Attorney General, Jeffrey Chiesa.  Months after our report was published, Christie appointed Chiesa as an interim Senator following the death of Senator Lautenberg.

In September 2013, Clarion discovered that the same four Islamists, including Qatanani, remained on the Muslim outreach committee even after we reported on their backgrounds. An additional Islamist with a criminal background was identified, raising the number to five. Shockingly, one of the committee’s meetings was with top-tier law enforcement officials who briefed them on how to get homeland security grants for non-profit organizations.

The Council on American-Islamic Challenge (CAIR) honored Christie in September as one of the heroes making “outstanding contributions to pushing back against Islamophobic trends in 2011 and 2012.” CAIR is an unindicted co-conspirator in a Hamas-financing trial and the Justice Department labeled it as a U.S. Muslim Brotherhood entity.

The Christie Administration included the N.J. chapter of CAIR in its Muslim outreach in May 2012, even though FBI policy prohibits its operatives from using CAIR as an outreach partner. In February, CAIR-NJ selected the executive director of Qatanani’s mosque to be its new leader.

What is more unsettling than Christie’s denigration of his critics on this issue is how the audience applauded him. The event he spoke at was widely seen as a part of the 2016 presidential campaign, with numerous potential GOP candidates speaking and trying to win over donors.

His answer was a calculated dodge designed to make it seem like the criticism is all about Sohail Mohammed. It’s not, and Christie knows that. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t.

 

Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s National Security Analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and is frequently interviewed on top-tier TV stations as an expert on counterterrorism and Islamic extremism.

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Meira Svirsky

Meira Svirsky is the editor of ClarionProject.org