Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Update: Remember Samar Ali?

Does the name Samar Ali ring a bell?

You may remember that in 2012 the Haslam administration hired her to work in the Department of Economic Development as the Assistant Commissioner for International Affairs. What should have been a routine hiring of a talented person created a furor.  What caused the controversy was that Ms Ali is a Muslim and has expertise in Sharia compliant finance. In her capacity with the Department of Economic Development it was not anticipated that she would have the occasion to use her knowledge of Sharia finance, but because she had those credentials and simply because she was Muslim, some of the right wing fringe went ballistic. Never mind that she was a native of Milan Tennessee and graduate of Vanderbilt University and that her father was a distinguished medical doctor who headed a statewide medical association and was a colonel in the Tennessee National Guard, the fact that she was Muslim was enough.

Some factions of the energized right wing used her hiring to weave their fanciful theory that Governor Haslam was in the process of imposing Sharia Law on Tennessee. I guess they thought that day after tomorrow all the crop tops and shorts were disappearing from Walmart and being replaced by burqa's. Luckily, it was a very small fringe, but they were noisy and adamant. Some of the fear being spread about Muslims called to mind how at other times in history Jews were blamed for poisoning wells and witches for casting spells.  A handful of county Republican Parties passed resolutions condemning her hiring and a group led by the local 9-12 group took out a full-page, $5000 ad in the Tennessean critical of Haslam over the issue.  My disagreement with this action let to me being expelled from the local 9-12 chapter, although I never lost any sleep over it.

Governor Haslam did not budge and at a meeting of First Tuesday, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Mr. Bill Hagerty strongly defended the hiring of Ms Ali.

While I recognized the threat of radical Islam in the world, I think the threat of irrational bigotry is also a threat. Thankfully, I hear a lot less irrational anti-Muslim bigotry now than just a couple years ago.  There was a lot of other right wing crazy stuff bubbling to the surface then also, but much of it seems to have gone away, thank goodness.

I had not thought of that episode until just recently, when I got a notice from the Nashville chapter of the World Affairs Council that Ms Ali was the guest speaker at an event tonight. She has gone on to bigger and better things. I will be attending the event where she is the guest speaker. speaking on the topic, “Is the Middle East in a Cold War with Syria at the Center?”

Below is her profile that accompanied the announcement: 

Samar Ali is currently an advisor to the United Nations Envoy for Syria and is working with both the Carter Center and the U.S. State Department to facilitate peace in the Middle East and a negotiated settlement of the Syrian crisis.

Samar Ali
A member also both of Baker Donelson's Corporate/Mergers & Acquisitions Practice Group and its Global Business Team, Ms. Ali concentrates her practice in international law and public policy.

Prior to joining Baker Donelson, Ms. Ali served as the Assistant Commissioner for International Affairs under Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam.

Ms. Ali also served as a White House Fellow in President Obama's administration and worked closely with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Nepolitano. In this role, she focused on both foreign and domestic policy issues relating to national security in the US, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. She also co-led the 2010 White House Fellows Delegation to China and served in an advisory position on the White House Arab-American Kitchen Cabinet to the Office of Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs. Following this appointment, Ms. Ali joined President Jimmy Carter on an International Election Monitor Delegation to witness the presidential elections in Egypt.

A graduate of Vanderbilt University School of Law, Ms. Ali was a law clerk to the Honorable Gilbert S. Merritt of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and a judicial intern and law clerk to the Honorable Edwin Cameron, now in the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
 To learn more about this controversy that surrounded the hiring of Ms Ali, read here, here and here.

Update: I attended the meeting last night and Ms Ali spoke for about 45 minutes.  She has been meeting in Oslo at Syrian peace talks, has traveled throughout the Middle East trying to help find solution to the crisis and she has toured the refugee camps were hundreds of thousands of people linger in desperate conditions. She spoke about the "Arab Spring" and how it had become an "Arab nightmare," about the geopolitical players in the conflict, the tribal, religious, and political  factions involved in Syria and the efforts to find a solution to the conflict. Her talk was very enlightening and informative and I was very impressed.  Those who disparaged this talented, intelligent lady who obviously cares deeply about humanity and peace in the world should be ashamed of themselves.

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