Beyond Bridgegate: Ignoring the Elephant in the Room
The political flap over Chris Christie's role in "Bridgegate" has thrown a spotlight once again on the rough-hewn, plain-speaking New Jersey governor. But the drama of the current brouhaha has drawn attention away from the governor's more serious, ongoing missteps -- namely, his cultivation of relationships with those associated with known terrorist groups. Remarkably, New Jersey's Governor Chris Christie appears more contrite about Bridgegate than he is about these associations that threaten national security.
Muslims & Political Influence in New Jersey
New Jersey has the second-largest Muslim population of any state, after Michigan. Paterson, the county seat of Passaic County, is home to a controversial Hamas-linked mosque, the Islamic Center of Passaic County (ICPC), and contains the largest population of Palestinian Muslims in the United States. The Muslim community in South Paterson is referred to as "Little Ramallah."
This past year, Paterson's mayor, Jeff Jones, was the first U.S. city official to host a "Palestinian-American Day," with a Palestinian flag hoisted over City Hall on Israeli Independence Day. Astonishingly, the event organizer, Khader Abuassab, a convicted criminal who pled guilty to fraud and swindling, is on record telling local Muslims not to cooperate with law enforcement. Further, Abuassab served on the Paterson Board of Education, ran for City Council, and now serves on Governor Christie's Muslim Outreach Committee.
Christie & Mohammed Qatanani
But Christie's record of political support for Muslims dates back to his days as U.S. attorney. It was then, in 2006, when he came to the aid of a radical Muslim imam, Mohammed Qatanani, who was on the verge of being deported from the United States for failure to disclose terrorist affiliations.
The little-known details are that Qatanani arrived in the United States in 1996 to take over the ICPC, one of the largest mosques in the state. Housed in a former synagogue, the ICPC was founded in 1989 by Imam Mohammed El-Mezain, a convicted Hamas operative and fundraiser who publicly boasted of raising close to $2 million for the organization. In 1996, Qatanani arrived to succeed El-Mezain.
Given the mosque's affiliations, it's not surprising that Qatanani also has a background littered with terrorist associations. He was arrested and convicted in Israel in 1993 as a self-admitted member of Hamas. As a Muslim Brotherhood operative, he had provided financial support for terrorist activities and continued to send large cash transfers to the West Bank once he arrived.
These activities raised suspicions by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which in 2006 began attempts to deport Qatanani for failure to disclose his 1993 arrest in Israel for involvement with a terrorist group. Despite the charges for his terrorist activities and very real security concerns about the Hamas-affiliated imam, a spokesman for Qatanani, Aref Assaf, called the deportation effort "vindictive," implying that the investigation was ill-conceived and baseless.
Then, then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie came to the aid of the imam. In response to a 2008 DHS court filing, Christie defended the imam as a "man of great goodwill" and sent his assistant U.S. attorney, Charles McKenna, to court to serve as a character witness. As a result of Christie's efforts, Qatanani was granted legal permanent residency.
Christie & Sohail Mohammed
In 2011, as governor, Christie aggressively endorsed and appointed Qatanani's lawyer, Sohail Mohammed, as a New Jersey Superior Court judge. Some speculated that the post was a payoff to Imam Qatanani for ICPC and Muslim community support for his gubernatorial campaign.
Sohail Mohammed is a board member and general counsel of the American Muslim Union (AMU), an organization co-founded by a former executive for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim Brotherhood front and unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation trial, the largest terrorism funding trial in U.S. history. Several AMU executives have held leadership positions at the Hamas-linked ICPC. Sohail Mohammed publicly defended convicted terrorist and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader Sami Al-Arian and criticized the U.S. government for shutting down the Holy Land Foundation for its support of Hamas.
During the trial of the Fort Dix Six, who conspired to attack U.S. military personnel at the base, Mohammed was quoted as stating, "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."
But such statements are not a reasoned plea for objectivity and independent thought; rather, they are simply subterfuge and whitewashing of Islam. That's because Koran-sanctioned terrorism or jihad is an integral, doctrinal part of Islam. In the name of Islam, more than 20,000 deadly terrorist attacks have been committed worldwide since 9/11, underscoring that it is not individuals, but the essence of Islamic militant beliefs that sparks terrorism.
In other disturbing actions, Mohammed had criticized the television series 24 for depicting Muslims as terrorists. In 2005, he called for a "bias crime" investigation of the Coptic community for its anti-Muslim sentiment following the slaying of a Coptic family in Jersey City. As an American lawyer no doubt familiar with the Constitution and the First Amendment, Mohammed doubtless knew that his request constituted a threat to the Coptic community's freedom of speech by attempting to muffle their vocal suspicions of Muslim involvement in the crime.
Christie & Muslim Outreach Committee
In 2012, Gov. Christie called for an investigation into the New York Police Department's counterterrorism procedures. He objected to their surveillance of mosques and a Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored student group, the Muslim Student Association (MSA). When the New Jersey attorney general concluded that the NYPD had acted lawfully in pursuing terrorist activities, Christie formed the Muslim Outreach Committee, an effort to mollify the outrage expressed by local Muslims. All the individuals chosen for the committee who were to act as liaisons between the Muslim community and state officials, including top security personnel, were associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, including the beleaguered Imam Qatanani.
Clearly, support for a known Hamas operative like Qatanani is a serious threat to national security. According to a report by the Investigative Project for Terrorism, Qatanani publicly supported payments to families of suicide bombers and condemned Christians to "eternal hellfire." As a former prosecutor, Christie must have had access to this information.
That same year, Christie hosted a Ramadan dinner at the Governor's Mansion and invited Imam Mohammed Qatanani, referring to him as a "friend," "a force for good in his community," and someone who has been helpful to New Jersey law enforcement. No mention was made of the imam's extensive terrorist ties, radical sermonizing, and law-breaking activities.
In an interview with The Blaze in 2013, Qatanani called for limits on free speech to protect Islam from criticism. Expressing views in accordance with Islamic blasphemy laws or sharia, Qatanani stated that although Americans have freedom of speech, they "have no right to [talk about Muslim] holy issues" because to do so will incite "hatred or war among people." He went on to explain that criticizing Islam poses a national security threat to the United States and recommended that those responsible be investigated by the DHS. He advocated Islamic blasphemy laws that criminalize criticism of Islam and maintained that mocking Jesus or Moses is acceptable for Americans, but it is forbidden to mock Mohammed.
Christie & Sharia
Besides actively seeking political and personal working relationships with Muslims linked to terrorism, Gov. Christie has ignored concerns about the application of sharia, or Islamic law, in the United States. In the face of findings by an in-depth 2011 study initiated by the Center for Security Policy to the effect that 23 states had already used sharia as a factor in their deliberations, and despite the fact that sharia contradicts the U.S. Constitution, requires gender and religious apartheid, denies freedom of speech and religion, and promotes cruel punishments, Christie has state that "[t]his sharia-law business is crap...and I'm tired of dealing with the crazies."
This, even though in 2009, the year Christie was elected governor and after he spent six years as U.S. attorney in New Jersey, a New Jersey judge actually referenced sharia law in his decision. The case involved the judge's refusal of a temporary restraining order for a divorced Muslim woman who had been raped and assaulted by her ex-husband, who maintained that Islamic doctrine requires wives to comply with all of their husbands' sexual demands. Under current New Jersey law, non-consensual sex between married persons is considered rape. Fortunately, the decision was overturned 13 months later, but no thanks to any action by Christie.
In another instance, Christie placed the sensitivity of Muslims above the constitutional rights of a New Jersey Transit worker. When Derek Fenton was fired by the transit authority for burning pages of the Koran at the planned site of the Ground Zero mosque on the 9th anniversary of 9/11, Christie approved his termination. Fenton, who was not in uniform and was on his own time, was clearly exercising his constitutional rights. But Christie dismissed the ACLU's criticism of Christie's utter disregard for the First Amendment, saying of Fenton's actions, "That kind of intolerance is unacceptable."
The significance of Bridgegate, however extensive, pales in comparison to Christie's deeply troubling relationships with terrorist-sympathizers and supporters in the New Jersey Muslim community. He has sheltered known Islamists from law enforcement, excused their hateful rhetoric, ignored threats to national security, criticized legitimate law enforcement activities, and dismissed constitutional rights -- all to pander to a Muslim constituency.
That someone of Christie's leanings could wield the power of a U.S. attorney and then a governor is concerning enough. To imagine him at the helm of the country is a frightening prospect.