Which poses a greater threat to the American Constitution: sharia or religious intolerance? For New Jersey Gov. Chris Crazy Christie the answer seems to be religious intolerance. He is right. Last week Christie directed what Jeffery Goldberg of Bloomberg describes as a "blast of righteous anger" at a campaign to thwart the appointment of a prominent Muslim lawyer to the Superior Court in Passaic County. The lawyer hails from India. And apart from sharing a name with the prophet, his crime was that he represented A-rabs detained for questioning by the FBI in the wake of 9/11.
In a show of bipartisan bigotry, Republicans and Democrats on the confirmation committee, evidently afraid that Mohammad (the lawyer, not the prophet) had a secret plot to turn Passaic County into a sharia state, asked him to define “jihad.” Mohammad was eventually confirmed, but Christie told Goldberg: “I just thought this was a ridiculous and disgusting situation. I think it is terrible to try to exclude someone from office based only on his religion, and that’s what was happening here.”
Christie is no terrorist sympathizer, having successfully prosecuted a group of Muslims who were conspiring to attack Fort Dix. So his revulsion is not so easily dismissed by his conservative kin.
But in refusing to turn Sharia into a bugaboo that the country has to spend trillions of dollars to fight, Christie has very good company. No less than the father of American conservatism, the great 18th century British philosopher Edmund Burke (and one of F.A. Hayek’s heroes), actually admired sharia because it subordinated rulers to religious law rather than giving them carte blanche over subjects as was the case in Christian countries historically.
Here is what Burke said on the subject at the impeachment trial of Warren Hastings, the Governor General of India. (Hastings stood accused of corruption and high misdemeanors in office and Burke was his prosecutor. Hastings argued in his defense that his actions were justified under Asian traditions that gave him complete and arbitrary powers to do what the hell he pleased):
The greatest part of Asia is under Mahomedan governments. To name a Mahomedan government is to name a government by law. It is a law enforced by stronger sanctions than any law that can bind a Christian sovereign. Their law is believed to be given by God; and it has the double sanction of law and of religion, with which the prince is no more authorized to dispense than any one else. And if any man will produce the Koran to me, and will but show me one text in it that authorizes in any degree an arbitrary power in the government, I will confess that I have read that book, and been conversant in the affairs of Asia, in vain. There is not such a syllable in it; but, on the contrary, against oppressors by name every letter of that law is fulminated. There are interpreters established throughout all Asia to explain that law, an order of priesthood, whom they call men of the law. These men are conservators of the law; and to enable them to preserve it in its perfection, they are secured from the resentment of the sovereign: for he cannot touch them. Even their kings are not always vested with a real supreme power, but the government is in some degree republican.
(H&R readers inclined to think that my religious background has anything to do with this post should know that I ain’t no Mahomedan.)