Last Tuesday, I attended the monthly meeting of the First Tuesday group and the guest speaker was Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner, Mr. Bill Hagerty.
He spoke about how Tennessee's economy is improving, how the Haslam administration has streamlined government, created a more business friendly environment, and about the challenges ahead. I was very impressed by Mr. Hagerty's command of his subject and the passion and energy with which he spoke. I am convinced that we have an excellent and talented Commissioner of Economic Development who will continue Tennessee's economic advances. He spoke for about 30 minutes and then took questions.
I asked Mr. Hagerty a question, which I am paraphrasing: "Sir, your office recently hired a young lady who is a Muslim and who has expertise in Sharia compliant finance. This hiring decision has come under severe criticism from some quarters. Critics say that this is a wedge in the door to imposing Sharia law in Tennessee. Talk show host, and bloggers and a certain segment of the conservative movement are very concerned about this. How would you answer your critics? Also, could you please tell me how her expertise in Sharia law will benefit your department? Why do we need someone with this specialty?"
Mr. Hagerty responded at length, probably taking ten minutes or more to answer. He spoke with passion. It is almost as if he had been anticipating the question and welcomed it. I did not plan to blog on this topic so I did not take notes and I did not record his comments. I can't quote directly what he said and can only summarize from memory. To fill in the blanks, such as the name of the firm Ms Ali worked for and the name of the judge she clerked for, I have looked it up. I know Mr. Hagerty told us those names in his response to my question but I could not recall them. Some of what I state below may be subject to error. Below is the essence of what he said as well as I can recall and piece it together:
The lady's name is Samar Ali. She is a Tennessee native and yes, she is a Muslim. Her father was past President of the Tennessee Medical Association and a Colonel in the Tennessee National Guard. (I am not certain of this. It could have been some other medical related association and I may have the rank wrong and it may have been the Tennessee Air National Guard. In any event he had distinguished credentials.)
Ms Ali grew up in Waverly Tennessee and attended public schools and is all American girl.
She has tremendous credentials, and we are fortunate to have her in our office. She is a former White House fellow and she was an associate with the prestigious law firm Hogan Lovells where she worked on counseling clients on mergers and acquisitions, project finance, and international business matters. During her time with Hogan Lovells, she was a founding member of the firm’s Abu Dhabi office. While in Abu Dhabi, she put together Sharia compliant finance projects. Big law firms and accounting firms, do that sort of thing all the time. Any firms that do a lot of international transactions has someone who can do Sharia compliant finance. There is nothing sinister about that. If I was going to do business in Louisiana, I would have to do business according to the Napoleonic code. When I came back to Tennessee, I would not follow that code to do business.
Before going to work for Hogan Lovells, she clerked for Gilbert Merritt of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. (Mr. Hagerty also listed other credentials and achievements which were impressive but which I cannot recall.) She attended Vanderbilt University here in Nashville where she got her B.S degree in Political Science and a law degree. She was active in various campus organizations at Vanderbilt including an Arab Student group and she was Chair of the Vanderbilt College Republicans, and you know how hard it can be to be a Republican at Vanderbilt.
When it was known we were looking to fill a position in our office, I got a call from her father asking me if I would look at her resume. Like any father, he would like for his daughter to move closer to home. I interviewed her for the job, and she was the best qualified.
When all of this uproar, started, she came to me in tears and offered to resign. I told her I would not let her resign. We cannot give in to bigotry. (Maybe Mr. Hagerty did not use the word "bigotry" but that was the essence of his comment. He may have said "ignorance" or something else.)
Ms Ali was not hired due to her expertise in Sharia compliant finance and I do not anticipate there would be occasions where she would use those skills.I was not going to blog about this. First Tuesday, is normally closed to the press so that guest may speak bluntly and attendees may ask questions without having what they say sensationalized in the press. I honor that tradition and when I attend First Tuesday I make a point never to blog about what I learn, although at times it is tempting.
Today, while at the Republican Party picnic, I saw Tim Skow the organizer of First Tuesday and he asked me if I was going to blog about Mr. Hagerty's reply to my question. I said I had not intended to because I knew he normally excluded the press form First Tuesday meetings and I did not want to violate a privileged access denied the press. He said in this case, what was said needed to be reported and he encouraged me to blog it.
Still, I was not going to do so, because I did not take notes or record Mr. Hagerty's statement and knew it would be difficult to reconstruct his statement from memory. Today however, when I read the statement from 912'ers, I thought it was time to speak up. After the 912 initiative, I thought Mr. Hagerty's First Tuesday statement was even more relevant.
Unless you are a conservative activist you are probably unaware of the anti-Muslim sentiment on the part of some in the conservative movement. Most of the mainstream conservative talk show host such as Hannity or Limbaugh seldom address the issue of Sharia law but lesser known and local talk show host routinely spend a lot of time talking about the threat posed by American Muslims and the threat of the imposition of Sharia law on America. On the right there is a growing anti-Sharia movement and numerous blogs devoted to the topic.
On Thursday, prior to the First Tuesday luncheon with Mr. Hagerty, I had attended a meeting of Conservative Groups, where the guest speaker was Dr. Bill Warner of the the Center for the Studyof Political Islam. Over the last few years, I have attended other meetings where the topic was the threat posed by American Muslims and the danger of the imposition of Sharia law in America. Anti-Sharia seminars are a growth industry.
People like Mr. Warner and the various other anti-Sharia activist teach that Islam is not even a religion but is a political ideology. They teach that Muslims cannot moderate and that they are bound by their religion to conquer and subdue all non-Muslims and that a Muslim can never be trusted because it is their duty to lie and deceive the non-Muslim. Although I do not see it, members of the anti Muslim movement believe that the legal system of Islam, called Sharia, is being gradually imposed on America.
I am not naive. I do think there is a cultural conflict going on in the world. The perpetrators of 9-11 were motivated by religious zealotry. Radical Islam is a threat. I think we as a nation can be too politically correct when we fail to call the lone wolf Muslim terrorist a Muslim terrorist. I also hope that the FBI and the CIA and Homeland Security are diligently monitoring suspected terrorist linked organizations and pursuing suspected terrorist to the maximum extent permitted by law.
On the other hand, I part ways totally with those who would expect Governor Haslam to not hire a qualified person simply because she is a Muslim. I part ways with those who say Muslims should not be allowed to build a Mosque in Murfreesboro. I do not know what to say to those who say that Islam, which is the world's second largest religion, is not really a religion.
The other day on a chat group someone wondered aloud if the wild fires raging in the West might not have been set by Muslims. Since then, I have been sent a link to web site that makes that charge. This is dangerous speculation. For centuries Jews were accused of poisoning wells and such speculations let to pogroms. In World War II we imprisoned thousands of Americans of Japanese decent because of suspicion of disloyalty. Many of them were prominent people in their community and professionals. America has since apologized for that injustice. I suspect there are many in the anti-Sharia movement who would not hesitate to deny Muslims the same rights of trial by jury and freedom of religion enjoyed by all other Americans. I fear the anti-Sharia rhetoric may lead to vigilante violence against Muslims.
We won the cold war for many reasons but one is that the youth of countries behind the iron curtain wanted blue jeans and rock and roll and western personal freedoms. I think Muslims exposed to the American way of life will become more secular and less desirous of Jihad. They will assimilate. Their peers will be more important than the Iman or their parents.
I think the anti-Sharia zealots are wrong when they paint Islam as a universally monolithic religion committed to jihad. Not every Muslim nation is Saudi Arabia. Not every Muslim is a sleeper agent waiting for the chance to off your head. One of my favorite vacation that my wife Louella and I took was to Turkey. In Muslim Turkey, I could buy wine in a grocery store, but not in Nashville. Ms USA a couple years back was a hot Muslim babe. Where was she hiding that bomb? The anti-Sharia folks need a wider exposure to the world.
I am proud of Mr. Haggerty for not accepting Ms Ali's offer of resignation. We cannot give in to bigotry.
I think the Haslam administration has already responded to the 912ers resolution.