Brandy Brooks for Planning Board

It is time we got serious about candidates of substance, not flashy style and connections.

It is time we got serious about candidates of substance, not flashy style and connections.

There is no candidate I believe in more than Brandy Brooks for MoCo Planning Board. Her addition is vital to this organ of our local democracy. Brandy's campaign for office last year focused on the and disheartening division between the privileged and disinherited in our county over a million people. While these smack some as populist motivations devoid of practical policy considerations, I have to disagree. There is an inside game in our county, and it is unkind and unwelcoming to new and fresh voices committed to the advancement of our society beyond their narrow networks.

Brandy’s resume is vast, and impressive. I will not re-highlight each of its points suffice to say I have every faith that her abilities and skillsets meet the requisite requirements to serve on the Planning Board.

Brandy Brooks has become through blood, sweat, and tears one of the true faces of our county. Her commitment to highlighting the challenges that face our society is commendable. Moreover, her ability to think through public policy is not just impressive, but wisely important. Having worked with her, I trust her more than any other candidate to offer perspectives and ideas that might otherwise be missed.

While some other candidates who have applied for the Planning Board vacancy are professional resume-padders, that is not the case with Brandy.  Her commitment to serving the public outweighs the elitist politics of some who feel the pressure to keep up with the Joneses that some in their lives likely are demanding of them. This isn't an episode of Dynasty and we don’t need anymore insider intriguw. Montgomery County deserves a true public servant, and her name is Brandy Brooks.

Notes from the Field: Tunisia

I have now traveled to half the Arab World, and 1/3 of the Old Muslim World. And of these countries, Tunisia has won my heart. It might be that everyone I meet speaks at least conversational French here. It might be that I can eat street food basically anywhere and not keel over. It might be that although I am in Africa and Sahara, the hot days are tempered by cool sea breezes and that the gelato is 75 cents and damn better than anything at home. Or it might be that, even with over-regulation, institutional ineptitude, and low-level corruption, the start-up scene here is more vibrant than anywhere I have been. But frankly, it is the people, whose faith in democracy is shaken, but whose commitment to it has not been deterred. 

For the past few days, I have been in the land of Tunisia, a country the physical size of the entire Mid-Atlantic seaboard, but with a population scarcely equal to that of Ohio. An ancient land, it was once home to Carthage, the anti-imperial holdout whose General Hannibal once brought elephants through the Alps for a sneak attack on Rome. It is also home to Zaytuna, one of the oldest Islamic seminaries in the world (founded in 737), which produced the modern father of sociology, economics and historiography, the scholar known as Ibn Khaldun. Unlike Eastern Arab traditions which focus largely on conquest, hegemony and the subjugation of non-Arab peoples, Zaytuna is one of the schools of Western Arab thought, more in line with Islam’s commitment to pluralism and tolerance. It has fostered a near-Jesuit mentality in some ways, in part because of both Andulusian and Ottoman influences—whereas the Eastern Arab world embraced Nasserism and Kawakibism, two cultish traditions that emphasize Arab racial supremacy over non-Arab peoples, and a sense of Manifest Destiny to politically subjugate those not belonging to that loose racial categorization. Tunisia, small though it is in population, represents perhaps the last, best hope for the Arab World to embrace a path of political and socio-cultural pluralism, thanks in no small part to Zaytuna, Ibn Khaldun, and the country’s founder, the Kemalist-influenced Habib Bourghiba.

While tension exists between Islamists, Islamic, Secular (“Laic”) and Modernist political and social cleavages, the country is one of the few places I have witnessed a willingness to engage one another in civil debate without the resort to declarations of Takfeer, a device invented originally by Arab extremists to excommunicate and apostatize all dissent against the Arab-centric Ummayad Dynasty whose policies against non-Arab Muslims led to the rebellion of the founding saint of Shia Islam, the Imam Husayn. In this, Tunisia resembles the Omani Islamic tradition of the Ibadi sect, which considers schism over political matters to be gravely sinful. Therefore, while challenges to political pluralism continue to plague Tunisia as a transitional democracy, there is a stronger sense that freedom of expression and conscious should be valued than not.

No Country for Old Men

From across the world, ex-pat Tunisian Millennials with degrees from Sciences Po, Georgetown, the dreaded Ivies and the like have all returned here to devote themselves to an experiment to ensure that democracy survives in the Arab World. With bated breath, crestfallen democrats from Islamabad to Ankara and beyond are praying, hoping and (sometimes) drinking themselves into a stupor in the hopes that somehow, perhaps Tunisia will prove the critics, dash the casted doubts and perhaps somehow emerge with its head held high. "We too, sing of freedom --- and carry it in tune."

Yet a wretched and debauched "Baby Boomer" class of anti-democrats and ancien regime players lurk in the shadows. Their fangs drawing ever closer to the neck of Tunisia's Lady Liberty as she sings the first lines of the Opera of Democracy. Will her millennial saviors cast sunlight and transparency on their misdeeds? Or will the forces of evil suck the life force not only of Tunisia's vibrant hope of democracy but that of 1.3 billion tired, broken yet still devout Muslim souls, yearning for freedom? Evidence suggests that statist and remnant forces from the ancien regime still play a role in castigating and intimidating civil society and political discourse. However, this seems to be far less the case than what was found, say, under J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure as head of the FBI. Ben Ali loyalists have began to try and capitalize on the economic downturn of Tunisia’s exhaustively state-owned/controlled economy in the post-revolution electoral climate. However, many people seem to prefer to utilize democratic means to achieve change, meaning they’ll just keep voting until they elect a governing parliamentary coalition that will actually serve the people.

In other words, this is a land of cautious hope. Young people have tasted freedom for 8 years, and just as Obama's election (more than his lackluster presidency) galvanized a new generation to fight for a country without the indignities of corruption, inequality and the like, so too is it in the land of Zaytouna (the ancient seminary that is home to Islam's progressive legal religious tradition). There is a sense of exigency--and the mixing of cultures, ideas, moralities, and social norms has produced a people as vibrant in spirit as they are tired of status quo acquiesence. For this is the land that Skywalker war born: the planet Tatooine is a real place, and it's where the original Star Wars was filmed. 

Only time will tell if democracy congeals in the land of Ibn Khaldun. But there's always A New Hope in the land that Star Wars was filmed in. Rebellions always find their heroes in Tatooine.

MY AMA on Reddit

Last week on Tuesday, I conducted my first-ever AMA, or Ask Me Anything live interview on the popular website,

Let me just start by saying I had no idea what an AMA was until about three months ago when a friend pinged me about doing one on My first question was, “What’s an AMA?” AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything” and it is a popular form of conducting a live interview with and expert or celebrity. The questions are crowdsourced through a social media platform, like Facebook Live, Twitter, or Reddit. Reddit is a social media aggregation site where users share content from across the web, vote it up or down based on the content’s popularity. I was invited to do an AMA on the Reddit US Politics page, called a subreddit. The US Politics subreddit has about four million subscribers and tens of thousands of live users at any given minute of the day. Needless to say, there were no shortage of questions.

Reddit’s AMA policy requires an interviewee provide “Proof of Life” to confirm the person actually agreed to do an AMA. Above is my photo. Notice that I wrote my name in English, Japanese and Persian (Farsi).

Reddit’s AMA policy requires an interviewee provide “Proof of Life” to confirm the person actually agreed to do an AMA. Above is my photo. Notice that I wrote my name in English, Japanese and Persian (Farsi).

Given the rowdy nature of the internet, I was something between terrified and mortified to be doing an AMA at all. Several celebrities, politicians and experts who have recently done AMA’s have lived to regret it. CNN’s politics editor at large didn’t have a fun time. Nor did former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley. I was a little worried that given my fairly long career as a political activist and Democratic politician, things might go awry. Thankfully, that was far from the case.

You can check out and read my AMA on Reddit at this link:

So why do AMA’s and Reddit matter? Well, they’ve become a popular medium for political bases to interact with rising stars on the Left. The Washington Post wrote the following about them:

“Arguably, the site (and its signature AMAs) went from obscurity to mainstream prominence after President Obama’s 2012 AMA drew record-breaking traffic. And it shouldn’t surprise anyone that politicians have a hard time straying from talking points, even on a platform intended to be candid and casual.”

As someone who really hates talking points and the stiff, sheer lack of humanity that is establishment politics, I really enjoyed my AMA experience in the end.

One question in particular stuck out to me: what were my thoughts about the rise of antisemitism in the United States. Below is a portion of my answer:

The rise of anti-semitism in the United States horrifies me. No community should be subject to the pains and terror of being hated merely for existing. No people in history have suffered as chronically or as brutally for merely breathing fresh air as the Jewish people have. 2,000 years and beyond of being targeted, maligned, discriminated against time and time again merely for their commitment to their faith, their culture, their way of life. Indeed, as the Jewish sages tell us, there is always an "Amaleik" in every generation. Amaleik was a tribe that tried to exterminate the Children of Israel as they wandered the desert for 40 years.

The rise of antisemitism in America is the product of jingoism and chauvinism being peddled as politically viable movements to achieve some strange idea of an America devoid of "foreign" influences. It is being tolerated by the Republican Party which had more than a few neo-Nazis run to be their standard bearers in Congress this past election. It is sick. It is wrong. And I swear by all things holy, I will fight antisemitism to my dying breath as a matter of honor, duty and principle.

One of the reasons I was invited to do an AMA is because of the many times I’ve been on national TV in the past year or so, debating some of the most feared spokespeople on the political right. You can watch a mashup of some of my clips in the video to the left.

Questions focused on diversity in politics, identity questions, ranked choice voting (RCV), the future of the Democratic Party, and a very enjoyable exchange about how to make the best Turkish coffee ever.

Much to my surprise, my AMA turned out to be more popular (in UpVotes) than the one done by CNN’s Chris Cillizza—a huge surprise to me personally. Even conservative political activists seemed to enjoy the conversation. One of them wrote:

As a conservative that frequently visits this sub, I was fully expecting to be enraged by some of your answers but I found answers that encouraged a true discussion. Although I don't agree with some of what you said I do respect how you said it. Thank you for doing this.

I was touched by that.

All in all, my AMA experience was a good one.

#MoCoWatch: Elrich Meets With Millennial Activists


A remarkably diverse group of millennial activists from across Montgomery County met with County Executive Marc Elrich today over brunch. The meeting was called by local millennial blogger The MoCo Millennial in order to have Elrich offer an explanation for recent comments that were taken to be derisive by certain members of the County Council as well as local realtor andblogger Dan Reed. At-large councilmember Hans Reimer in particular took issue with the comments, as did several letter writers to the Washington Post. Notably, Reimer and the letter writers are not millennials.

Elrich’s comments can be found on the blog, Just Up The Pike, which is run by Dan Reed. Reed is an accomplished millennial architect and local realtor. He also guest columns for The Washingtonian and is associated with the local pressure group, Greater Greater Washington.

Meeting of the Minds--And Soup

The brunch brought together activists from the Up, Mid, East, Down & West counties for what is being described of likely the "first of several" meetings with millennial activists coordinated by The MoCo Millennial. Update: ead The MoCo Millennial’s account of the meeting and what Elrich had to say about housing policy on their blog.

Elrich offered a rose-colored glasses off approach in sharing the facts about the county’s precarious economic state, and the direction he believes its housing, rental and commercial real estate markets should be headed. Throughout the meeting, he calmly sipped on tomato soup while casually debunking myths about his hostility towards Millennials, minorities and renters.

Bobby Bartlett, a candidate for state delegate in 2018, offered praise for Elrich’s decision to meet millennials on their terms. Despite his claims of youthful vigor, Elrich’s chief critic Councilmember Hans Riemer is not known to have a strong relationship with millennial activists or voters.

Bobby Bartlett, a candidate for state delegate in 2018, offered praise for Elrich’s decision to meet millennials on their terms. Despite his claims of youthful vigor, Elrich’s chief critic Councilmember Hans Riemer is not known to have a strong relationship with millennial activists or voters.

Elrich's meeting came on the heels of a seriously damaging report about Montgomery County's economic viability and future position. The report itself was not mentioned by name, but several of those in attendance cited facts and figures from it while Elrich calmly listened and offered both creative proposals and hopeful enthusiasm for the future of Montgomery County.

An Era of Mismanagement At An End

Privately, an increasing number of objective parties involved in county planning over the previous decade have laid blame on the previous County Council and especially retired County Executive Ike Leggett for simply not doing enough to keep MoCo economically competitive and a desirable place to live. Elrich, they contend, has inherited a county far poorer than his predecessor did, and one whose economic climate is far less favorable as a new generation of residents and businesses seek something different things from government and society than in previous decades. Rather than taking the approach of a shady used car salesman in describing the county’s economic woes, it is argued that Elrich prefers a “truth-in-lending” approach to dealing with problems. Indeed, both allies and rivals concede Elrich’s directness is a breath of fresh air in politics.

Diversity Remains Key

Asian American Democratic Club Vice President Anthony Kadir listens to Elrich’s response to a question.

Asian American Democratic Club Vice President Anthony Kadir listens to Elrich’s response to a question.

The location for the meeting, Busboys and Poets, a local chain owned by an Iraqi immigrant further highlighted Elrich's commitment to diversity and making space for millennials in Montgomery County. The restaurant is considered a hub for millennial activism in the DMV region--a point noted when a waiter proudly wearing a RESIST head garment took orders from Elrich's table in the crowded Takoma location, right over the border from Montgomery County.  Several of those who attended also had relationships with the disabilities community. Future meetings are being planned with Asian American, Latino, Muslim and African-American millennial activists, among other groups, as well as regionally-focused meetings. Montgomery County is home to 1.1 million people, a third of whom are born abroad, and more than half are not white. Elrich has taken pains in recent months to work towards addressing concerns at the cross-sections of the county's breathtaking diversity (four out of the top ten most diverse cities in America are located in the county). Those concerns are largely socio-economic, though criticism of the deliberate exclusion of immigrants and minorities from electoral politics by the local political establishment has also been raised time and time again.

Meet the Critics

Perhaps the most critical voices of Marc Elrich's comments are realtor-turned-blogger Dan Reed and third-term County Councilmember Hans Riemer. Riemer is elected at-large but whose base is largely in Silver Spring andTakoma Park. He has been mentioned numerous times in recent weeks as contemplating a challenge to Elrich in four years. Reed’s blog Just Up The Pike has a dedicated readership and has been growing in influence. It is believed that Reed supported his former boss, George Leventhal in the 2018 primary against Elrich. Unlike Riemer, Reed is a millennial, and like nearly all millennials--has a record of making politically incorrect statements as well.  

When Bloggers Get Blogged About: Dan Reed and Bethesdans Don't Get Along?

Dan Reed previously applied for a seat on the powerful Planning Board of Montgomery County. Supported by Councilmembers Nancy Navarro and George Leventhal, the millennial architect-realtor-blogger wunderkind was considered an intriguing choice. That is until the establishment-leaning Seventh State blog wrote a post where Reed's comments regarding Bethesda residents were shared in a less than flattering light.

Reed's remarks were both more substantive and longer than Marc Elrich’s latest comments. Reed castigated Bethesda's millennials and their parents in the name of identity politics and class warfare; he blasted those county residents for apparently instilling fear in their children to not spend time in Silver Spring. Subsequently, Reed was defeated in his bid to join the Planning Board. Reed apologized and defended himself numerous times for his remarks, which were made years ago.

When contacted about the Saturday brunch, Reed offered the following statement:

"I'll say this, it's good that he's listening, and he'll be a more effective County Executive if he listens more,

Perhaps Reed should have given such thought to his pejorative statements against Bethesda residents. Then again, both Reed and Elrich's statements should be chalked up to non-issues. It is clear neither has true animosity towards either Bethesdans or Millennials.

The Real Issue: MoCo's Future

There’s more than some talk that Hans Reimer is planning to challenge Marc Elrich in 2022, and that this latest public spat is part of Reimer’s posturing for such a run.

Elrich won his primary election by only 77 votes in a hotly contested race that pitted major establishment figures against anti-establishment and new blood candidates. The establishment counted on the likes of former Rockville mayor Rose Krasnow, then-District 16 state delegate Bill Frick and former District 1 councilmember Roger Berliner versus the definitively counter-establishment Marc Elrich and newcomer David Blair. Reed’s former boss George Leventhal was deemed the “wild card” candidate by observers due to his questionable temperament. Of the candidates running, only Blair and Elrich had extensive new-voter, minority and immigrant outreach operations in a county that is majority non-white. It is probably little surprise then that their two campaigns that were neck and neck for the Democratic nomination last June.  

Riemer was endorsed by two orgs with close ties to Dan Reed, the LQBTQ Democratic Club & Greater Greater Washington, furthering talk that Reed and Riemer are working together to sabotage Elrich’s administration.

Riemer was endorsed by two orgs with close ties to Dan Reed, the LQBTQ Democratic Club & Greater Greater Washington, furthering talk that Reed and Riemer are working together to sabotage Elrich’s administration.

Leventhal’s efforts at diversity outreach were legendary in previous elections. That is, until he hired a campaign staffer who deliberately pulled a chair from a woman wearing an Islamic headscarf at a political event in 2018--a story oft repeated in political circles after the election.

Reed and Riemer are believed to have actively backed an Anyone But Elrich strategy during the last primary election. Given Elrich won a very divided field by only 77 votes over his closest competitor, the congenial and thoughtful self-funding David Blair, some suspect there's a movement afoot to politically sabotage Elrich's administration just enough for Riemer or another Democrat to challenge him and win in 2022. If one thought Capitol Hill was a hotbed of political intrigue, they should stop by the county offices in Rockville.

Game of Thrones meets House of Cards (with a lot more halal food-joints), anyone?

At Water’s Edge: Teaching About The Holocaust


Here is a photo of me in 2012, teaching a group of rising leaders from all over the world about the history of the Jewish people & the Holocaust.

I was 25. After spending the previous ten years of my life deeply immersed in American Jewry, I found myself able to use my experiences to make a difference in the world. Before me were a dozen of the brightest, most talented young leaders from across the globe. A few of the Arab students had draped me in a red & white keffiyeh--a symbol of leftist politics in the Levant--and then asked me a question: "What was the Holocaust?"

For the next 45 minutes, I explained the painful, heartbreaking story of the Shoah to young people from across the world. I did so at their behest, and as an American.

This moment was the culmination of a decade-long interfaith project to quietly study and be a part of Maryland’s vibrant Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and Orthodox Christian communities as a participant observer of goodwill & interfaith understanding.

Learning to think and belong to these many faithful communities changed me forever. It drove within me a passion to bring Americans and people the world over together to better understand one another, and repair the world through social justice—Tikun Olam in Hebrew.

There I was, a Muslim American, former president of a Jewish fraternity standing in a hotel lobby in Baltimore with young people from the Arab World, West Africa, the Subcontinent, Eastern Europe & Southeast Asia. What ran through my mind were the words: "We made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another."

In these trying and difficult times, we need to build bridges between one another in order to build understanding for a better world—and form a more perfect union. E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, We Are One.

A Moral Power Lost: America's Foreign Policy is Adrift

This is a syndicated column. The original column is published on the site of America’s leading Indian American news source, The American Bazaar.

Mike Pompeo’s speech in Cairo was as desperate as it was boring and uninspired.

When I was born, America was the moral leader of the world. The Evil Empire known then as the Soviet Union was engaged in a bloodthirsty conquest of the homeland of my father's ancestors, Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan, an otherwise pernicious politician, had continued the policies of his predecessor Jimmy Carter in fulfilling America's moral obligation on the world stage to stand with a people being subjugated by a soulless world power. This time period, the 1980s, was in many ways the height of the idea of Pax Americana. The world had largely forgiven us for what was considered by many foreign observers to be empire-building in Vietnam, and now saw us as the great red white and blue hope to counter the bloody path of communism. This was a calling that the U.S. actively took on with great pride, if not always a full understanding of the world stage. It made sense both morally and economically for the U.S. to shoulder this responsibility.

Over the course of the next 30 years, America's moral authority both rose and dimmed following the collapse of the USSR. Our interventions in the early 90’s in the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East were seen as half-hearted police actions with a tinge of unilateralism. Our courageous stand to save Muslim lives in Bosnia and Kosovo, and willingness to employ the mystique of American military might for what was clearly an unselfish defense of human rights was hailed across the world as the ushering in of a new American way in foreign policy. America’s honor as a selfless world power had never been greater.

Cairo Speech Quote.png

Since that time, America's foreign policy considerations have been continuously undermined with the fear of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil by foreigners in the style of 9/11. At the urging of an irresponsible Chief Executive, we have become emotionally invested in fearing the very immigrants who built America. Building walls and halting the flow of refugees from war-torn lands like Somalia and Syria are effective talking points for a politician in a third world autocracy. They do not and should not, however, be the main focal point for the office of the president of the United States.

We are a world power. There is an incredible responsibility attached to that power. As the rise of authoritarianism and the spread of war, chaos and untold human misery spread across the globe, many of our allies and would-be friends stand with their mouths ajar while wondering: in disbelief. Where is the America that once stared down the Evil Empire?

The time is now. If the president and his chosen lieutenants of foreign policy are unable to govern, then Congress must act to deal swiftly with their incompetence. More than hearings and political rhetoric, Congress must deploy its full arsenal to right the ship of our democracy, and assure the world that the darkness growing in Eastern Europe and Asia will not go unchecked. America's hangover will soon be over must end soon. We are ready and eager to help lead a brave new world once again.   

Tulsi Gabbard is An Islamophobe

Tulsi Gabbard is seen here embracing and placing a garland over Narendra Modi. Modi was banned from entering the US for his role in persecuting Christians and carrying out the mass murder of Muslims in India.

Tulsi Gabbard is seen here embracing and placing a garland over Narendra Modi. Modi was banned from entering the US for his role in persecuting Christians and carrying out the mass murder of Muslims in India.

There has been a great deal of discussion on social media about the merits and demerits of Tulsi Gabbard running for President. Let me make this abundantly clear: she is an Islamophobe. 

Over the course of the past 36 months, she has from time to time engaged in a public relations effort to muddle the facts and record about her strenuous discomfort with LGBTQ & Muslim communities. 

However, her previous votes in Congress to constrain refugees from Muslim countries, her adamant demand that we use innacurate and harmful language to describe terrorists, and her warm embrace of two mass murderers on the global stage who killed thousands of Muslims because of their faith, as well as reliable reports from Muslim community leaders in Hawai'i about the marked hostility they feel from her and her office all prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Tulsi Gabbard is indeed, a zealous Islamophobe. 

At this point in time, any defense of her will be viewed not just by me but literally every credible and established Muslim organization as apologism for an enemy of the Bill of Rights. A decade ago, perhaps such admiration for an advocate for culling Muslim Americans' freedoms would have been tolerated. Today, it will be not. Those who advocate for Tulsi Gabbard will be remembered, and will not be allowed to forget that they supported the Joseph McCarthy & George Wallace of the modern-day political mainstream.

If you want to learn more, please read this press release from The Pluralism Project.

A Christmas Eve Post.

As millions of Americans prepare to celebrate in holy mass and worship services across the land tonight, let us embrace & remember the particulars of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.

A despotic king had ordered the mass killing of children 2 years and younger in the hamlet of Bethlehem. Soldiers went from home to home, slaying babes in their cribs and spearing their bodies for good measure. Joseph and the Virgin Mary arrived in the town seeking shelter as Mary went into labor, but none was to be found. They then settled into a manger filled with animals for the night, praying the delivery would not cause the young Mary her life.

From the east, three wise men saw the signs some months before and realized the coming of the universal deliverer of the Truth was upon them. As followers of the Wise Lord, they set out to meet and honor the Anointed One--Christos in Greek.

Yet, at the heart of it, a baby was born while a government backed by foreign Western powers sought to oppress and silence their opposition. A Nazarene family struggled to find shelter, with government agents circled around, seeking to capture and kill them. They were refugees and strangers in a not-so different time.

Fast Foward to today, and we find ourselves with an autocrat seeking to imprison and oppress those seeking to escape death squads, poverty and living damnation from their homelands. He seeks out children to jail, and even kill, with a lust as insatiable as Herrod's for his daughter Jezebel. We see strangers take shelter in cisterns, alleyways, and yes even mangers, yearning for the same things Joseph & Mary sought that night in Bethlehem. From the East again, this time wise women, Rashida, Ilhan and Alexandria, have been dispatched to honor and welcome them.

I was a stranger and ye took me in.

While am not a Christian, the Christian story of the birth of Jesus, son of Mary, Messiah of Mankind moves me to tears again this year as Herrod has become Dajjal, and the children sit in camps.

This Christmas Eve, pray for those without hope and light. Those who will celebrate Christmas in camps for the sin of not being born with a blue passport. And ask yourself: would Christ let the temple of democracy remain so polluted?

I was a stranger, and ye took. me. in.

Merry Christmas.

It's the Economy, Stupid

Trump's Decision to Cause a Government Shutdown Has Little to Do with Border Security

One has to hand it to Donald Trump, the man truly is a magician at the dark art of media manipulation. After losing control of the House of Representatives, it appeared to Democrats as if Trump was finally on the backfoot with the American people. The White House occupant's poll numbers continue to tumble into historic lows, and yet, Trump remains anything but enfeebled in the eyes of his base. That could finally change as the true picture of our economy emerges.

First, let's talk about the Fed. After a decade of seemingly unending easy credit for corporations and large-scale investors, the Federal Reserve's board of governors has begun a scale back through raising interest rates for a fourth time in a row this year. Separately, the stock market's wild gains have fallen off as concerns that real growth is sluggish and that the Fed will continue to draw to a close its willingness to lend for the sake lending.

Moreover, the CPI in July was reported to be the highest a decade at 2.9 percent, levelling wage growth in real terms to just 1% --- not as impressive as the previous claims of being the best salary growth in ages by Trump and his gaggle of talk show allies. For good measure, let's mix-in large-scale desertions from blue collar employers like General Motors which is firing 14,000 employees and closing 7 U.S. factories just as their union labor contract comes up for re-negotiation. What we're left with is an economic picture that hurts an already struggling, largely white blue collar base that Trump has come to depend on as the underpinning for his administration's hold on power.

That is, unless Trump can flip the script on the Democrats and find a way to blame them for everything wrong in America today. Which he can, by refocusing his base on their pre-existing ire for immigrants who they see as a threat to White Predominance in America & of course, their jobs. By refusing to sign any Continuing Resolutions that don't allocate money for the Donald's Wall, Trump is essentially recasting himself as the defender of White America against Democrats' and immigrants' designs for a non-white takeover of the country. Smart politics for a self-described "nationalist" seeking to distract weary voters from economic woes.

It is also a time-tested approach. Plenty of inept monarchs and petty dictators in other parts of the world have held on to power through the employing of nationalism. The Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein, Pakistan's Z.A. Bhutto, and Indonesia's Suharto being some prime examples in recent time. However, all of those populist leaders were eventually toppled when economic and civil rights issues eventually intersected. The Donald might have bought himself some breathing room, but it is anyone's guess how long he'll actually be able to hold on to power.

Reflections on Mississippi

This post discusses the state of Mississippi as it appeals to recent news coverage. It focuses on three separate themes: An Election Night Re-Cap of the Recent Runoff Election, Emerging Demographic Change and American Identity

Me and an idealistic group of friends, ready to change the world. Biloxi, MS, Spring 2006

Me and an idealistic group of friends, ready to change the world. Biloxi, MS, Spring 2006

Sweet Ole’ Mississippi

I love Misssissippi. I went to the state 13 years ago to help repair damage after Hurricane Katrina. The people I met -- black & white, were humble folks who were thankful that we were there. The climate, natural beauty & interestingly diverse ways of life I came across fixing roofs and rebuilding houses made me feel proud to be American--and the people we were helping felt proud I was an American too.

Bigotry did exist in the hearts of some people. A woman asked me (oddly) to pray for the safety of a Christian man in Afghanistan with her, while then going on to pray we Muslim heathens saw the light of her one true faith -- awkward.

Mississippi Burning

Fast forward 13 years and a depressing additional 35 pounds on my body, and that sense of divide between Mississippi and the rest of the country has only become more pronounced. As other states in the south have begun to emerge as flagships of the new STEM-focused economy, Mississippi has continued to lag stubbornly behind. It is less educated and poorer than all of its neighbors — ranking last in healthcare, second to last in economy, fourth to last in education and 49th in the nation in opportunity for upward mobility. Yet, somehow, it ranks sixth in quality of life — and 17th out of 50 in social environment, per U.S. News & World Report.

That last ranking-anomaly explains one of two things: why so many Mississippians continue to vote red, despite their state being the butt of national (and often liberal) jokes about their rankings among the other 49 states in the union. Mississippi’s largely rural population of 2.9 million people prefer to be left alone to their own devices. Life is good in the Ole’ South, argue many. Why do outsiders have to come and meddle in Mississippi’s ways?

However, the state clearly has problems, problems that won’t be solved by their pride in being home to the largest Bible-binding factory in the country. The state has some of the worst infrastructure in the country. College attendance is very low, and even though many tech jobs today in the IT field and beyond don’t require expensive and time-consuming liberal arts degrees—the state has a remarkably low penetration of broadband internet. Along with Louisiana, a review of available data from the FCC suggests that Mississippi has perhaps the lowest broadband access of any state in the Old South.

Mississippi Masala

Sarita Choudhury (pictured above) remains my first brown-girl crush.

Sarita Choudhury (pictured above) remains my first brown-girl crush.

The dearth of broadband internet availability does prevent successful organizing among minority and immigrant communities. Mississippi. 37 percent of Mississippians are black. Native Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans add a further 3 - 5% to the state population, with Muslims in the engineering, STEM and medical fields increasing annually, creating a growing intellectual class of non-whites. All in all, if demographic trends hold, by the close of the next decade, Mississippi will likely emerge as minority-plurality, if not minority majority.

That should improve race-relations in a state that has notoriously found ways to avoid de facto integration in schools, and about whom more than a few blockbuster films have been made about racial violence, lynchings and cold-blooded murder during and after the civil rights era. Jim Crow never found more fertile soil than the Mississippi Delta, an octogenarian former cropsharer once wryly told me.

Election Night: Hyde-Smith Underperformed

No matter how conservatives tout it, Hyde-Smith under performed this past Tuesday. Mississippi was a state carried by Donald Trump by 16 percentage points in 2016. Hyde Smith only won in an election run-off by 7.8 percentage points. On election night earlier this month, she only came out ahead against Democrat Mike Espy by .9 percent, with GOP State Senator Chris McDaniel playing the role of spoiler by wooing away 16.4% of that night’s vote. That’s an underperformance of 15 points in comparison to Donald Trump, with the special election narrowing the gap between Trump in 2016 and Hyde Smith by 7.2%, or about only half. Here are some key factors why:

  1. Allegations of Racism

    It probably isn’t a good idea for any politician in America to be caught dressing up as a confederate soldier. It is an even worse idea for that politician to then be accused of lending vocal support to lynchings. Aside from the obvious bad impression this leaves among black voters in a state that is nearly 1/3 African American, the moral decrepitude and lack of ethical judgement in era of Trump that Hyde Smith showed in both these instances made even deep-red voters in Mississippi cringe. While Trump showing up twice in a single day to rescue his southern belle did help stabilize numbers, Hyde Smith’s standing with Mississippi voters might very well be damaged extensively in her next election campaign in 2021. However, it should be noted that the brother of slain civil rights icon Medger Evers, GOP politician Charles Evers strongly endorsed Hyde Smith in the wake of the discoveries made about her questionable statements and appearances.

  2. Growing dissatisfaction with the GOP

    Donald Trump campaigned here for Hyde-Smith because it’s one of the few places Americans still like him. As of October, he enjoys a 59% approval rating in Mississippi. As mind-melting as that might be, the GOP is actually losing ground in the state. Unemployment remains higher than the national average, and manufacturing and farming have both taken a hit in Trump’s trade wars. That has translated to a slow burn of support for the Republican Party which which will finally boil over sometime in the next 6-8 years.

  3. Increasing Voter Diversity

    Black Votes Matter. Mississippi’s black voters equal 37% of the electorate — the highest in the country. Two progressive judges and two African-American women judges were elected this cycle. The NAACP claims to have sent 20,000 text messages and knocked on 180,000 doors in the state this November. But the challenge is that black churches, and black voters have long memories & staunchly conservative social mores. Few have forgotten that the racist, pro-segregationist white ruling class who ran the state from the end of Reconstruction until fairly recently were Democrats. Moreover, many churchgoers of all races in Mississippi disapprove of the increasingly social liberal agenda of the left. Abortion aside, the drive for LGBTQ equality alienates many in this socially conservative state. Times are a-changing though, and as a generation of millennial African Americans take over the leadership of the state, a pivot to the left is expected.

Millennials Take Over Maryland Democratic Party Leadership

Montgomery-Owned Establishment Loses Big

Allison Galbraith (pictured above) is one five millennials who stormed into party leadership after an insurgent campaign dethroned establishment figures yesterday. Galbraith, who ran for Congress on the Eastern Shore this year, is now second vice-chair for the MD Democratic Party.

Allison Galbraith (pictured above) is one five millennials who stormed into party leadership after an insurgent campaign dethroned establishment figures yesterday. Galbraith, who ran for Congress on the Eastern Shore this year, is now second vice-chair for the MD Democratic Party.

Yesterday, the Maryland Democratic Party's functionaries convened in Lanham to elect a new statewide leadership for the next four years. It was widely expected that establishment favorite and Montgomery County resident Kathleen Matthews would be elected to complete a second term as chair of the Maryland Democratic Party. However, in a dramatic turn of events, Matthews was defeated by a last-minute insurgency carried out by a coalition of millennial politicos and progressive activists. In the final count, public policy expert Maya Rockeymoore Cummings of Baltimore City unseated the congenial Matthews by 438-319 votes. 

Here’s a list of the new officers:

Chair: Maya Rockeymoore Cummings (Baltimore City)

First Vice Chair: Cory McCray (Baltimore City)

Second Vice Chair: Allison Galbraith (Eastern Shore)

Third Vice Chair: Nicole Williams (Prince Georges County)

Secretary: Robbie Leonard (Baltimore County)

Deputy Secretary: Abena McCallister (Charles County)

Treasurer: Bob Kresslein (Western Maryland)

Deputy Treasurer: Jeffrey Slavin

Sending a Message

Progressives have said they in part wanted to send a message to the party establishment, following their large-scale desertion of the party's nominee for governor Ben Jealous at the polls. One of the new officers elected yesterday went as far as to put the blame directly on elected officials hailing from Matthews' native Montgomery County. That officer claimed that Democratic officials from voter-rich Montgomery County abandoned Jealous, whose campaign they found out of touch and alien to Maryland.

"Yesterday showed the widespread discontent showed with the status quo politics that benefits a tiny few while locking so many out of the process. The new leadership team have the experience with grassroots democracy and developing networks, plus the long term vision, that we need to continue democratizing Maryland and lowering the hurdles for everyday people to run and win," said Richard DeShay Elliott in a prepared statement. Elliott was one of the major organizers of the insurgent team of millennial candidates who won yesterday's leadership vote.    

A Thankless Job

Few activists had negative words about Matthews' tenure, and many agreed she was given a thankless job to re-organize and mobilize a state party that was allowed to languish under the last Democratic Governor, Martin O'Malley, and then was disgraced by the loss of Government House in a state once considered the second bluest place in America after California. Many privately blame O'Malley's less-than-ethical time as governor to be responsible for why Democrats lost in 2014.

A New Crew

Nearly the entire leadership of the party is new, with Baltimore-based State Senator Cory McCray being elected first Vice Chair, Prince Georges County stalwart Nicole Williams being elected Third Vice Chair, and insurgent candidate Allison Galbraith being elected Second Vice Chair. All three are millennials, with Galbraith being a former congressional candidate from the Eastern Shore.

MoCo: A County Divided

Within Montgomery County, political activists were far from offering praise to their central committee. The secretive body has been routinely criticized for caring far more about electing their membership to higher office than actually running the local Democratic Party -- which is their chartered purpose.  "Democrats in Montgomery County need to get real about the impact of economic and racial inequality in our communities, our politics, and our policies," said Michelle Whittaker, who was the campaign manager for Brandy Brooks. Brooks was a political newcomer whose insurgent campaign earned her the second most votes of any woman running at-large for Montgomery County's county council. "MCDCC’s vote gives the appearance that they are out of sync with where the party as a whole wants, and needs to go", Whittaker continued.

"Black women, are the past, present, and future of the Democratic Party but that hasn't always been reflected in party leadership," said Lily Bolourian, who was the political director for David Blair, Marc Elrich's chief opponent in the primary race for county executive this year. Bolourian, herself Iranian-American, advocated for broad engagement of the county's massive immigrant and minority communities, something only Elrich & Blair's campaign embraced in a county where 1 in 3 people are born abroad, and a majority of the population is not white.

Montgomery County's Central Committee: "Out of Touch With Reality"

Many observers were shocked to see how out of touch Montgomery County's delegation was with the rest of the state, with even a large segment of their traditional allies in Prince Georges County voting for Cummings over Matthews. In stark contrast, save for one single vote, every MoCo vote went to Matthews. No other delegation was so in-lock step with the old guard. "I think they are inexplicably out of touch with reality," said one state elected official.

"I'm not surprised, considering the history of Montgomery County," said
Richard DeShay Elliott. 

"I think the vote yesterday reflects a change in the air," said new party deputy treasurer Jeffrey Slavin. "50% of the central committee members who voted were new, and they wanted to have their own brand reflected in the elections. This is not a reflection on Kathleen, who did a fantastic job. The people just rose up against party insiders and wanted a chair who reflects the new reality of our party and state". Slavin, himself a longtime party insider, was the only Montgomery County resident to be elected to a leadership position yesterday. He attributes this to his decision to make space for younger and more diverse talent.  

Antipathy for Asian & Non-White Voters: A MoCo Establishment Tradition

Criticism also extends to the leadership of Montgomery County's central committee. In a county as diverse as Montgomery County, most political observers have expressed dismay that the MCDCC's chairmanship went from one white man with a questionable record on diversity issues, Dave Kunes, to another, Scott Goldberg.  Goldberg is a former candidate for state delegate from District 16, which is home to the bulk of the party establishment & party insiders whose suzerainty was rejected by yesterday's election of a  new party chair.  "It is almost as if they fear what would happen if someone not white was MCDCC chair again," said a senior elected official who asked not to be named.  

And frankly, that is a concern shared by many. Over the past decade, the revolving chair of political power in the county has stayed within a small circle of white, male power-brokers (both Kunes & Goldberg have worked for major county figures, and are former president of the Montgomery County Young Democrats). However, the county’s diversity and population has ballooned, with party leaders doing anything they can to allow only carefully vetted non-white leaders emerge in the role of gatekeepers. Take for instance how the county’s estimated 100,000 Muslims have been deliberately excluded from political office for 12 years in Montgomery County.


"We still haven't gotten a Black Governor. When we do autopsies of our elections, do we ask what role our biases have in how these elections play out? Montgomery's Democrats need to do some soul searching," said Adam Abadir. Abadir, an Ethiopian-American, is a former aide to former US Rep. Donna Edwards, who represented a significant portion of Montgomery County until gerrymandering carried out by Martin O'Malley in 2012.

Nostalgia for Karen Britto

The last county party chair considered to have a "successful" tenure was Karen Britto, herself a black woman. Since then, it has been universally agreed that the Democratic Party in Montgomery County is perhaps the most dysfunctional in the state. One chair --also a white man-- was forced out for utter incompetence by state elected officials four years ago following a scandal involving money wasted on a dud of a sample ballot--something unheard of in the rest of state. Reformers like Marie Mapes, Jazmin Moral and others have been fighting an uphill battle to see Montgomery County's central committee become a functional body. However, many observers have said it is time a "minority woman" take the helm of the party.

The Battle for MoCo’s Soul: Raskin & Elrich vs. The World

Yet, it is probably important to note that two of Montgomery County’s most popular elected leaders are themselves long-time progressive insurgents. Jamie Raskin, an ally of both Matthews & the rising millennials, has worked hard to be the bridge between the establishment and the restless forces of reform, yearning to repair the damage of a 1%-focused economy going back to the O’Malley era. Elrich & Raskin are actively trying to reform the Montgomery County Democrats to reflect the values and demographics that now are the majority of MoCo’s population, to the bitter opposition of the shadowy establishment and their central committee underlings.

To her credit also, MoCo resident Matthews fought to empower millennials during her short tenure. Again and again, people have noted that Matthews was a tireless chair. The political winds blowing off the Bay this year are just fickle, is all.

Howard County Rising 

In a stunning rebuke of Montgomery County's dysfunction, several members of the state's federal delegation have hailed Howard County's diverse, millennial dominated central committee as the best in the state. Moreover, it was Maureen Evans Arthurs, the chair of the Howard County central committee that nominated Maya Cummings yesterday for state party chair. Every Howard County vote went for Cummings.

Howard County’s prevailing Democratic establishment was overthrown in a silent revolution earlier this year by the #HoCoForward slate.

Asians, Latinos and Muslims Missing from New Leadership

Despite the increase in diversity and millennial control of the state party apparatus, several key constituencies continue to be ignored and unincluded in leadership. Particularly, no Latinos, Muslims or Asians were elected in yesterday’s leadership election. Chief organizer of yesterday’s insurgency. Richard DeShay Elliott assures that this was merely a matter of the crunched timeline for the election. Elliott says he and other progressive organizers are committed to empowering these communities, even if the political leadership of Maryland’s largest jurisdiction (Montgomery County) is not.

Conclusion & Personal Thoughts

Kathleen Matthews was far from an incompetent chair. That honor goes to several of her predecessors in the 2000s. However, Matthews had a very small footprint outside the major 4 jurisdictions Maryland’s Democrats have come to rely on to remain in power: Montgomery, Prince Georges, Baltimore County & Baltimore City. More than a dozen people interviewed for this blog article said they had only met her in passing in Howard County, the Eastern Shore and Western Maryland, and that while her mission was ambitious and honorable, the tides of politics have turned against Montgomery rule. Many of them felt that Montgomery’s 1% elite have used the party to enrich themselves over the past quarter century, while working to exclude an entire generation of millennials from power. Matthews they admitted, was not one of those shadowy figures, but she simply did not represent the party they wish to have today.

I was born in Montgomery County. As a boy, I grew up in Charles County before coming back to the MoCo in time to attend Catholic School for a year and then go off to middle school. I went to college in Baltimore County, spending a great amount of time in the city working on campaigns, and in Howard County visiting family and college friends. As a working adult, I’ve worked on campaigns on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland. I love my state. Its diversity, strange quirks of geography and brackish mixing of social and political cultures fascinate me. But for the past decade, Maryland has been failed by a generation of baby boomers (and some Gen Xers like Martin O’Malley) with a voracious appetite for power and wealth, and a disdain for embracing our state’s emerging diversity save for photo-ops. They have taken us from the state with the best education system in the country, to one that is struggling to pay its teachers fairly, and with a growing achievement gap. I’ve watched young people drop out of college and take on two or three jobs at a time to feed their families, classmates from high school get evicted from foreclosed homes, and our state go from a thriving economy to one of only two with a negative trajectory for the coming year.

And I watched it all happen while a small group of privileged gatekeepers and ingratiated politicians not give a damn. To save Maryland, we need a new way forward. And I’m committed to seeing those who have sought to bring ruin to our people while enriching themselves pay at the ballot box for what they’ve done. The Revolution for the Free State begins now. And it will likely not be televised.


Immigration & The Border Wall

In a testy exchange with anti-immigration zealot Andrew Arthur, Hamza Khan points out the flaws in GOP logic when attacking Democrats for failing to tackle immigration reform on their own.

Fox & Friends First, November 30, 2018.

This morning I was on Fox & Friends to defend Democrats and make clear that we’re not the problem when it comes to fixing our broken immigration system. Below is a snapshot of my argument.

1. Democrats supported bi-partisan bill back in 2013 that would have created a path to citizenship for 11 million Americans-without-papers. It died at the hands of white nationalists in the House of Representatives after passing the US Senate.

2. Over 40% of undocumented immigrants take a plane. A Wall does nothing while costing us money we need for roads, bridges, schools, and paying the debt incurred for blowing those same infrastracture in numerous other countries.

3. Who else has a wall? Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran -- and a whole host of countries not up for "human rights defender of the year award". We'd be the only member of NATO to have one, and we don't even have an aggressor state as a neighbor.

A Few Other Things To Consider

  1. It isn’t exactly neighborly to aggressive build a monumental wall on the border with a friendly country. In fact, it is a fantastic way to damage relations and inhibit future diplomatic ventures with that country. Mexico is valuable trade partner, and in many ways a gateway into Latin America, i.e. our backyard in the hemisphere. Antagonizing Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to satisfy white nationalists is simply not in America’s long-term interests.

  2. Consider the message it sends to the the rest of the world, and why we should be allowed to remain a global leader in culture, trade and influence. Advanced weaponry and currency control (we are the world’s reserve currency) will only go so far, especially in an age where Russia, China and India are aggressively asserting their geopolitical strength. America has a role to play as a global stabilizer (not policeman), and that role’s influence and effectiveness will be diminished if the rest of the world views us as an arrogant bully that taunts poorer nations by building walls and squishing hopes of the American Dream for all who seek it out.

  3. There is no empirical evidence to suggest building a border wall will fix our immigration system. The idea is pure skullduggery designed to please and satiate the vanity and racial supremacy doctrine of white nationalists who view America as “polluted” by non-white background immigration. Otherwise, why not build a wall with Canada, too?

  4. It is beyond un-Christian for us to deny entry to those merely seeking to improve their station in life. Remember the Christian story of the birth of Christ: how Mary & Joseph found no shelter but a lonely and cold manger. Have we forgotten the essence of who we are as a nation, and the hope we offer the world?

The Halal Blue Wave Comes Ashore in Michigan

UPDATE I: This morning I was on Fox Business AM to discuss last night's primary elections. A clip of my comments are available on YouTube <----(Click on the video on the left)

UPDATE II: I was honored to be on PRI & WYNC's The Takeaway to discuss The Halal Blue Wave. Here's a link to the audio:

Hopes were high in Michigan on Tuesday Night that one of three Muslim Americans running for office would win. Most bets were on Abdel Sayed to pull off the win. But the ballots were counted, he and former Obama official Fayrouz Saad came out short. Rashida Tlaib, the second Muslim American woman to be elected to a state legislature, and one of 14 siblings of a Ford Motors worker, triumphed against the odds in Michigan to become the first Muslim woman to be elected to Congress. She faces no Republican opposition in her race.

Tlaib's victory came against several entrenched establishment figures, including another minority candidate, Brenda Jones. Tlaib's victory was hoped for, but not entirely expected, with several leading news journals covering the Detroit-region race doubting her ability to pull off a win as late as Monday night. However, Tliab's impressive ground game, strong fundraising, and appeal as the daughter of blue collar parents from Motown triumphed. 

Tlaib is part of a new generation of Muslim candidates, far more liberal and progressive than the Muslim community's established political leadership of bundlers and megadonors, largely of South Asian heritage, and who have, until now, resisted the rise a new generation of leaders not of "Desi" background.  

A record number of Muslims were running as Democrats this year for offices up and down the ballot, dubbed the “Halal Blue Wave”. Along with Republican Omar Qudrat in California, Democratic incumbent Andre Carson in Indianapolis, and New Jersey Republican Agha Khan, Tlaib will be on the ballot in November. 

Tlaib’s win signifies a huge shift within the Muslim American community. The symbolism – Tlaib is an Arab Palestinian – is also felt. The two current Muslims in Congress – DNC Vice Chair Keith Ellison from Minnesota & Andre Carson from Indianapolis are both men, and African-American. Tlaib is the first Muslim woman to be elected. 

Moreover, the coalition Tlaib put together of donors, activists & politicos reflects the future of the Democratic Party: unapologetically leftist, ethnically diverse & proudly immigrant and female. Tlaib’s politics mirror those of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She supports a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, and aggressively challenging Donald Trump’s unabashedly anti-immigrant views. 

Fayrouz Saad Finishes in a Close Third

Also impressive was the third-place finish of Fayrouz Saad, an amazing candidate whose political potential remains intact. Saad is a former Obama official with street credit in national security circles. She is largely considered a policy wonk whose broad network of donors and supporters spread across the country. Saad was on the DCCC’s radar from the beginning, before the brother of CNN’s Sanjay Gupta jumped into the race to make a name for himself. Both she and gubernatorial candidate Abdul El Sayed will be back soon. 

The Crimson Tide

Two Muslims have succeeded in becoming GOP congressional nominees. Former intelligence official Omar Qudrat (CA-52) & South Asian community leader Agha Khan (NJ-08) succeded in winning their primaries. Qudrat, a millennial is Afghan American, while Khan, is a septuagenarian, and belongs to the retiring South Asian generation of Muslim leadership.  

The End of the Uncle John Era

For years, the Muslim community leadership in the United States has been dominated largely foreign-born immigrants with less than stellar progressive report cards on the issues. Due to their willingness to oppose progressive reform, and blocking of the organic rise of younger leaders, they are collectively known as "Uncle Johns", a play on the pejorative “uncle tom” (in the South Asian language of Urdu, the word “John” means “beloved”). A battle for the soul of Muslim America began just as soon as Hillary Clinton lost her presidential bid in 2016. Establishment leaders largely backed Clinton while many young Muslim activists and progressives backed Bernie Sanders. 

Tlaib’s win was largely done without their input or active support. Instead, Tlaib focused on cultivating relationships she had made over the years with progressive Muslim leaders like civil rights activist & fellow Palestinian American Linda Sarsour. Tlaib endured sneak attacks from the Left by those fearing the rise of an empowered Muslim woman in American politics, as well as Dark Money attacks that are believed to have originated from the Right. 

Qudrat & Tlaib’s wins signify the rise of a younger, more diverse generation of Muslim leaders less defined by ethnic identity and far more so by the one factor that does unite us: our country. While they hail from opposite sides of the political spectrum, Qudrat & Tlaib are coming to represent a far more diverse America than the one their parents immigrated to back in the day. That in turn speaks volumes about what America still remains in these dark days of Trumpism: a beacon of hope that all nations and tribes might come together here, and come to know one another as fellow Americans.  

Despite Donald Trump’s efforts, the future is bright for America. 



We Can't Give Up

All it takes for darkness to win and chaos to prevail is for good men and women to remain silent.

We've all heard some version of the statement above. As Americans, our popular culture and national sense of identity stems from our nation being engaged in a sort of Manichean struggle between good and evil. Often this morality story's war for good is waged against outside enemies. But sometimes American exceptionalism has taken exception to what America should be and what America stands for. The struggle end slavery and the impending Civil War followed a century later by the civil rights movement are two powerful examples of America's struggle to fight the forces of darkness being a struggle from within for the soul of our country and what it means to be apart of American nationhood. For the past 25 years, America has been increasingly focused on enemies foreign rather than those lurking in the shadows of our domestic body-politic. In part this is because of the strong tradition we enjoy as a people who value free speech. But it is also because in a world that has increasingly smaller through technological change, we often find pleasant distractions to rid ourselves from the burden of self-sovereignty. Put more plainly: Americans today find participating in our democracy as a hassle. I write today to remind all of us that the alternative to rights of the sovereign being invested in the people is the power of the state being wielded for tyranny.

To set the stage, allow me to offer a silhouette from own life story briefly. My parents came from South Asia in the 1980s to seek out a free life in a free land. They themselves were and are avowedly apolitical. They were leaving a country where successive military dictatorships had either jailed or civilly punished successive generations of relatives for daring to question injustice, fight for democracy (voting), or refuse to participate in corruption. Witnessing firsthand that political participation could have disastrous consequences for their own loved ones, my parents chose to stay out of political discourse for the bulk of their lives.

Allow for another story not from my life, but from several democratic activists who participating in the largely peaceful events of the Arab Spring.  During the Arab Spring revolutions earlier this decade, I was working at a news journalism start-up that specialized in helping to get sensitive news footage and media assets out of war zones and dangerous regions of the world, and into the safe hands of news publishers in free-speech societies across the world.  During that time, I worked closely with some of the bravest young people in the world, as they labored away as citizen journalists & democratic activists, hoping to one day have the freedoms many Americans take for granted. The Arab Spring revolutions began in 2011 after poor economic planning by the dictatorship of Z. Ben Ali in Tunisia left millions of highly capable Tunisian college graduates without jobs and financial stability for years. Additionally, authoritarianism meant that young people could not voice their concerns and needs to government without fear of harm. Events culminated when a desperate young man named M. Bouazizi lit himself on fire after being humiliate by a government official. Bouazizi was supporting his whole family on less than 200 dollars a month, including the  paying for the college tuition of his younger sister, so that she would have job opportunities that he could never have for himself. 

Dozens of young people, many younger than me and in their early teens took to the street to help organize protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria for democratic rule. Many of them died, or were disappeared by the authorities. Many more were brutally injured, sometimes to the point of permanent disability. These young people sough out a life for themselves and their families not dissimilar to the ones we all seek out here in America for our own loved ones. But unlike most of us, they were willing to die to have the opportunity to vote. And many did die, something that stays in my thoughts to this day. 

I mention these anecdotes to help readers to understand just how privileged we as Americans are to have direct control over the levers of our own government. While the people of Tunisia for 23 years lacked the ability to influence economic policy in a way that could provide a better life for their families, we have had that right enshrined for over two centuries, even if we had to fight a civil war and were horrifically slow to embrace the full humanity of our black brothers and sisters, as well as grudgingly unwilling for most our history to grant women the right to vote. Moreover, we have nothing to fear from our government should we criticize or lampoon elected officials, civil servants or even our military for any reason whatsoever.  No American is left with the impression that they must set themselves alight to highlight government ineffectiveness or corruption.

We are, however, facing a greater challenge to our republic and representative democracy than has been seen in over a generation. To speak earnestly, our tri-pronged approach for safeguarding the rights and freedoms of Americans is under vicious assault not only from the harmful actions of a president elected on a mere technicality and without a popular mandate, but also by dangerous  forces outside of government: racial supremacists, extreme-rightists ("the alt-Right") and worst of all: the inaction by everyday Americans to confront the evil forces within our body-politic. 

It should never be acceptable to demonize immigrants, people of color or individuals belonging to minority faiths. It should never be acceptable for a government official to inject political commentary into our judicial process by calling for the execution of a soldier on trial, or threatening to jail political opponents. These are the hallmarks of authoritarianism, brigandry, and yes, Nazism. American values are as ever, evolving. But that evolution is taking us forward towards inclusion and greater appreciation for the nuances of American identity. That is, unless inaction by the electorate allows a class of extremely prejudicial and hateful actors to assume the mantle of representative government. 

It cannot go unnoticed that Americans don't feel optimistic about their country or their lives. Beyond the polls, the sense of malaise and emotional fatigue stemming from last year's bitter presidential election pervades people's lives. The forces of darkness are counting on just that sense of wanting the circus show we see in politics today to just go away for their side to win. Remember, the Bolsheviks and Nazis were not the majority political force at the time of their rise. Germany and Russia were both tired of war, economic instability and the ongoing bickering of political elites when marginalized groups led by Hitler and Lenin seized power. Similarly, the forces I have enumerated earlier in this blog post are counting on everyday Americans to eschew voting in democratic elections in order for them to galvanize their base and seize power through the ballot box, with an agenda to upend everything we know to be American after they do so. We can't give up because our very way of life is on the line. 

Nothing written in this blog post is especially unknown to most Americans. Even the harrowing tales of sacrifice I shared from my own family history and more generally of the lives of democratic activists in the Arab world are not exactly new. Millions of Americans have relatives or loved ones who can share their stories of hardship and struggle to escape the onslaught of communism and fascism in Europe, the Killing Fields and re-training camps of East and Southeast Asia, or the police-states of Latin America. Yet, from time to time it is helpful to have a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy every day aren't free. They came and still come with a price. To avoid the ballot box means to one day lose access to it altogether. As the forces of darkness continue to culminate across our land, I urge Americans to take the time out to learn how they can vote and voice their concerns to government in the upcoming elections next week and next year. 






Seeking Forgiveness

Seeking Forgiveness

Moreover, in the temerity of my youth, I often said and acted on impulse. While I thought I was doing the right thing, the truth is likely more complicated and filled with nuances. As I approach 30, and both my life and work are about to experience both public and private changes, the only responsible course of action for me is to take personal responsibility, and offer heartfelt apology for any wrongful harm and offense I might have caused many fellow activists and community organizers along the way. I am sorry for whenever I have lacked both the humility and disposition one needs to be a community leader.