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Ex-Haslam aide once targeted by tea party groups for Muslim background joins Nashville firm


NASHVILLE, Tennessee — A former member of Gov. Bill Haslam's administration vilified by tea party groups for having once worked in the area of Shariah compliant finance is joining a large Nashville law firm to work on international law and diplomacy issues.

The Tennessean reports ( that Samar Ali left state government last year after 18 months as assistant commissioner for international affairs in the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Ali is a Muslim who grew up in Waverly, about 55 miles west of Nashville. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2003 and was an international lawyer and former White House fellow before being hired by the state.

Haslam in 2012 defended Ali against her critics, saying she had been "incredibly unfairly maligned."

"She is somebody who was making a whole lot more money somewhere else, loved Tennessee, wanted to come back here and be a part of it," he said at the time.

Before her White House fellowship, Ali worked for Hogan Lovells US LLP, where she was a founding member of the firm's Abu Dhabi office and specialized in international business issues and Shariah compliant transactions. Shariah law forbids the giving or receiving of interest and requires deals to be based on tangible assets. Earning money from companies involved with alcohol, tobacco, gambling and pornography is also off limits.

Since leaving the state, Ali has worked with foreign governments to develop policies aimed at cutting down on youth unemployment, which she said undercuts the appeal of terrorism.

She called the efforts to defeat the Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq an "all hands on deck" effort.

"It's a defeatable entity," she said. "But it's definitely going to take a united, collaborative effort across the world."

Ali has joined the firm Bone McAllester Norton, where founder Charles W. Bone called her "an amazing young attorney with tremendous energy and passion for strengthening our communities and helping people."

Ali recalled as "a very painful experience" the attacks on her after she was hired by the state.

"A lot of the concern was rooted in a lack of understanding of my ideals and my values and where I come from and my identity," she said. "There was confusion over what my intentions were for serving in the government. A lot of the people who were against me probably didn't know that I took an oath of office to uphold both the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.

"It also made me realize how fast one can be dehumanized, and I definitely felt dehumanized," she said.

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