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, 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.

I am not surprised considering the history of Montgomery County.png

"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 senior 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 Morales 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: https://www.wnycstudios.org/story/blue-wave-muslim/

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. 

Valuing our Pluralism

The Pluralism Project is dedicated to empowering Americans hailing from diverse personal narratives to run for public office across our country. Below, I write about how my grandfather, S.M. Khurram Wasti inspired the project, and why America needs to fight to protect the beautiful mosaic of diversity and pluralism that Donald J. Trump has dedicated himself to obliterating. I recall how in the India of old, pluralism was the rule, not the exception, until populists appealing to the lowest common denominator detonated thousands of years of diversity and tolerance through the traumatic events now known as Partition. America can't partition our families to please the Alt-Right. Read more below.

UPDATED: Here are two recent news reports about The Pluralism Project from WAMU 88.5 (NPR) & The Washington Post:

http://wamu.org/story/17/05/12/new-maryland-pac-aims-put-muslims-office/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/md-politics/new-group-in-maryland-is-recruiting-muslim-candidates-to-run-for-office/2017/05/15/c3c7a81a-3985-11e7-a058-ddbb23c75d82_story.html

 My great-grandfather, M.S.Ghani Wasti was a citizen of the fabled city of Delhi before Partition. His closest friends included Hindus, Sikhs, Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. One of British India's greatest Shakespearean scholars, the pluralistic world he knew was torn asunder by the events of Partition. Will Donald Trump do the same to our beloved country?

My great-grandfather, M.S.Ghani Wasti was a citizen of the fabled city of Delhi before Partition. His closest friends included Hindus, Sikhs, Sunnis, Shiites and Christians. One of British India's greatest Shakespearean scholars, the pluralistic world he knew was torn asunder by the events of Partition. Will Donald Trump do the same to our beloved country?

The India of Old                                            When my grandparents were my age, India's diversity and culture of inclusion were breathtaking. The country had dozens of synagogues, fire temples, towers of silence, churches and the like belonging to its various ethnic and faith minorities. One could dine with Baghdadi Jews in Madras, celebrate Norooz with Parsis in Lahore and experience the emotional depth of Easter in Peshawar.

In other words, the India of old had a lot in common with the America of today. My sincere hope is that we come to embrace this marketplace of ideas, hopes and dreams more fully than the revolutionaries of South Asia did 70 years ago this month, when violence and rioting tore apart the India my ancestors had built over 1,000 years along with their Hindu, Sikh, Armenian, Persian, Afghan, Parsi, Shia, Uzbek, Portuguese, and Jain neighbors (to name a only a few).

Today, there is no synagogue in Chennai (Madras), and the Parsis wept as they fled an intolerant Lahore beginning in 1947. The Buddhists, Hindus and Christians of Peshawar are no more. The beautiful Indian Haggadahs are museum relics, and the chants of monks infused with the smoke of incense ring out only in the minds of those of us who know that monastaries once dotted the land. The diversity of soulfulness and conscience has gone, and in its place, nativism and jingoism rule over South Asia.

Trump & The Racism of the Alt-Right
America is at a similar crossroads in our own history. The diversity of our country is astonishing. Partially because of that diversity, white supremacists banded together last year to deliver a minority-win by technicality to Republicans and Donald Trump in the elections. Trump's radical racial supremacy agenda threatens to upend America's pluralism and cultural mosaic. My family survived the exact same hubris that Trump brings to the White House during their experiences with the Partition of India in 1947. But they only barely survived Partition, and the India of tolerance, cultural exchange, rebirth and renewal was shattered in the process. Trump's divisiveness and bigotry was on full display recently as he harassed Sadiq Khan on Twitter following the London attacks. His revulsion towards non-whites in America and elsewhere has led to international incidents that have caused many to question America's place in the global system. In effect: Trump is partitioning America from the world. 

 My maternal grandmother, shown here with her sisters-in-law, was one of Kashmir's most beautiful women. Partition led to her family fleeing to Lahore, Pakistan. She died suddenly from heart failure at 25. She never saw the Vale of Kashmir again after Partition.&nbsp;

My maternal grandmother, shown here with her sisters-in-law, was one of Kashmir's most beautiful women. Partition led to her family fleeing to Lahore, Pakistan. She died suddenly from heart failure at 25. She never saw the Vale of Kashmir again after Partition. 

Unless we take heed of the lessons of the past, the crimes and horrors of Partition could be re-lived, this time on a global stage. Think for instance of the practical effects of the Muslim Ban and the aggressive anti-immigrant targeting operations of ICE that have been launched by Donald Trump of late. Both, in many ways, resemble Pakistan's efforts to root out religious and ethnic minorities in 1947 during Partition, and again in 1971, when Pakistan summarily expelled millions of Hindu residents living in Pakistani-held Bengal (now Bangladesh). Trump's fixation on silencing his opponents and bypassing constitutional safeguards on executive power scream of Indira Gandhi's actions before her sudden cancellation of democracy and emergency rule period in the 1970s, a nadir for India's democracy. 

To defeat Trump and his dangerous, bigoted agenda will require Americans to actively engage their democracy in the 2018 midterm elections. At all costs, Congress must not be allowed to become a rubber stamp for Trump, as he continues to appropriate powers and privileges far beyond the scope of the presidency. Moreover, investment in democratic participation must include embracing our American identity as a people whose greatest strength is our diversity. E Plurubus Unum: out of many, one.  

This diversity is best embraced through supporting and empowering activists hailing from diverse narratives within the American Dream to run for office, thereby sharing their part of the American experience, and spurring cross-pollination in the American marketplace of ideas. That is why I founded The Pluralism Project, whose main mission is to inspire Americans through educating them about our country's beautiful tapestry of diversity and pluralism. 

 The Pluralism Project was originally an idea that my Pakistani maternal grandfather, S.M.K. Wasti had thought of in order to train and educate community organizers to run for office in his native Pakistan. His idea was met with fierce opposition by his fellow One Percenters in the country he helped to found.&nbsp;

The Pluralism Project was originally an idea that my Pakistani maternal grandfather, S.M.K. Wasti had thought of in order to train and educate community organizers to run for office in his native Pakistan. His idea was met with fierce opposition by his fellow One Percenters in the country he helped to found. 

The work of the Pluralism Project includes training candidates hailing from diverse narratives to run for office nationwide, as well as creating and disseminating media content that helps to educate Americans about the diversity of our country and its benefits to our society as a whole. The Pluralism Project plans to focus on disseminating these uncoordinated communications especially in media markets that often do not hear diverse and pluralistic American narratives, thereby working to undercut white supremacy and radicalization in rural and ex-urban areas of our country.

The single greatest regret of my grandparents' generation remains the failure to overcome ethno-nationalism and communal chauvinism in the era of Partition in India seventy years ago this year. My hope is that we can avoid a similar fate for Americans on the global stage and at home during the era of Trump, through counteracting Trump's vile hatred of diversity and pluralism at the ballot box. Only time will tell if the tide to stop Trump will raise all boats and save our shining city on a hill from catastrophe. I am optimistic that together, we can save ourselves from the forces of hate, and unite around the idea that truly: out of many walks of life, we remain indivisible with liberty and justice for all, insha'Allah.  

How You Can Help Artem & Shadi's Families

 A photo of Shadi and his friends from Seventh Grade. Provided by Shadi's friend Carlton.

A photo of Shadi and his friends from Seventh Grade. Provided by Shadi's friend Carlton.

 

The tragic murders of Artem and Shadi in Montgomery Village has rocked our community to its core. The two were just hours away from graduation with honors from Northwest High School in Germantown when they were killed. Shadi's father Adi is a pillar of the congregation at the Islamic Society of Germantown, where I worship on Fridays. His brother Ammar is the Imam for the mosque, and both of them are friends whom I deeply admire and respect. According to Islamic custom, mourning takes place for three days after a bereavement. Today therefore is the last day to offer condolences, although the Najjar family informed me that they would accept condolences only at the funeral and burial which happened yesterday.

How You Can Help

  1. Community members and friends have set up a GoFundMe page where you can contribute to help the Najjar and Ziberov families cover funeral and burial costs: https://www.gofundme.com/najjar 
  2. Generally speaking, Islamic beliefs allow for acts of charity and prayers for the deceased to benefit their soul after they pass on. Ongoing charity or sadaqah jariyah is a time-honored act. You can donate blood (as long as you're not fasting), give to a charity, or plant a tree to benefit the souls Artem & Shadi as an act of memorial. 
  3. If you know anything that can help bring the murderer(s) of Artem & Shadi to justice, please contact the police immediately. The police will accept anonymous tip-offs. During Ramadan, Muslims believe that the devil and his lieutenants are interned for the entirety of the month. Therefore, one has to be the most despicable of the low to commit murder during this sacred time of spiritual renewal. Please help us get the murderer(s) off the streets.  

 

Finishing My Grandfather's Work.

Making a Difference in Politics, One Progressive Candidate at a Time

Earlier this month, I publicly launched The Pluralism Project, a federal hybrid PAC that will focus on 1) supporting and offering training to candidates hailing from diverse backgrounds to run for office nationwide, and 2) produce and market several digital ads highlighting America's beautiful social tapestry of diversity and pluralism in the aims of promoting a more unified country in the face of Republican divisiveness and efforts to empower the Alt-Right and white nativists. But the idea wasn't originally mine, it was my Pakistani maternal grandfather's: S.M.K. Wasti. 

The House of Wisdom & The House of Lancaster

My grandfather's proposed solution was based on the House of Wisdom found in the ancient Muslim capital of Baghdad, where scientists, clergymen and scholars of all faiths and races would form the world's first think-tank with the imperial mandate to create sound public policy for not just the major political and religious issues of the day, but also matters of education, mathematics, science, literature and the dissemination of what was decided and learned to the greater empire. In Baghdad, at the time one of the world's most pluralistic and diverse places to live, the House of Wisdom was focused on the principle of inclusion and embracing both diversity and pluralism in order to ensure all perspectives were heard and considered in order to make comprehensive policy decisions and scholarly discoveries.

As the son of a Shakespearean scholar, Grandfather Wasti was familiar with English history, and especially the War of the Roses. He saw Henry Tudor's unlikely rise to power, and the wisdom of Tudor in unifying of the Houses of Lancaster and York as exactly what he would his project would be doing in Pakistan, which is a former British colony. In Tudor's honor: he named his idea The House of Lancaster. 

Empowering Democracy, A Continent Away

Grandfather Wasti was disturbed by the lack of political and public policy training of the winning candidates of Pakistan's first free elections in the 1970s. He noticed that while many talked a good game, they often played on religious populism and jingoist sentiments in Pakistan to alienate non-Muslims and other oppressed minorities to strong-arm an election result. Often these candidates were secular themselves, but played on the piety and heartfelt sentiments towards Islam of Pakistan's illiterate masses. Grandfather Wasti warned successive governments and ministers that the everyday concerns of Pakistan's massively rural and impoverished citizenry were being ignored, to the detriment of civil society, and democracy. This was the era of when Pakistan decided to invest billions in a clandestine nuclear program, and Pakistan's Prime Ministers famously stated that his people "would eat grass" if that's what it would to take in order to achieve the creation of an atomic weapon (his people would come close). Grandfather Wasti feared that Pakistan was nearing a tipping point where Islamist fanaticism would overcome Pakistan's civil society, and plunge Pakistan into a dangerous netherworld of extremism and political chaos. He was right. 

The One Percent Crush My Grandather's Hopes

Sadly, Pakistan's elites judged my grandfather as a hopeless intellectual and academic. But they also went a step further, and considered him to be a dangerous man.  Grantfather Wasti's sense of solidarity with Pakistan's working poor despite his social caste and economic class threatened to unleash Pakistan's diversity and pluralism to challenge the narrative of political Islamists who cared for only one thing: achieving power at all costs. Therefore, Pakistani power-brokers worked to sideline and marginalize Grandfather Wasti for his commitment to a Pakistan for all, even those he disagreed with. The House of Lancaster project would never come to be, and Pakistan would eventually become one of the world's least tolerant towards religious minorities, actively disenfranchise ethnic minorities, and especially harass and de-legitimize women in the public sphere.  The power of his idea to educate and train candidates and elected officials on the issues facing everyday Pakistanis was terrifying to the rulers, so they crushed his hopes.

America & The Pluralism Project

Today, America is at a similar tipping point as Pakistan was in the 1970s. After 8 years of embracing America's pluralistic and multi-faceted identity as a land of hope delivered and change realized, a caustic and dangerous minority of Republicans have hijacked the American Dream for their own misanthropic designs. Pakistan too, had an election where a hope-based, left leaning campaign to bring socio-economic justice won the vast majority of the votes, but due to technicalities could not take power. Those who did take power belonged to a super-wealthy elite that made its fortune through being brutal landlords who gouged tenants and had a questionable track-record of never-ended legal problems and sex abuse accusations. One familiar enough with the contours of modern world history could be forgiven for being confused and mistaking what is happening today in capital of the free world to Pakistan's plight in the early 70s. Dark times lie ahead for the Resistance, and moreover for the more than 300 million souls who call America their home.

Yet, there are many key differences. For one, nearly all of Pakistan's elites were committed to continuing to oppress the wide majority of the population to enrich themselves. A few brave men and women including my grandfather were all that stood in their way. Moreover, in an age where landline phones were hard to find, computers, social media and the internet were non-existent, and where the federal government actively murdered democratic activists in broad-daylight: grassroots organizing could and did get many brave people killed without legal or political repercussions for the murderers. 

Thankfully, the Donald hasn't gotten that much power yet. 

Honor Thy Grandfather, Empower Grassroots Democracy.

Here in America, men and women like my father and mother can achieve untold heights both economically and socially. Our freedom is hardwired into the DNA of our country, and we take pride in it. Whereas my grandfather was politically ham-stringed by his own colleagues, friends and even relatives for dreaming to empower Pakistanis to educate themselves about what it would take to change their homeland for the better, my fellow Americans and I have no such inhibitions. That is why I decided to risk my personal political clout and found The Pluralism Project. To finish what Grandfather Wasti began in his homeland, in mine. 

Our elected officials by and large do not reflect the breadth & variety of life narratives our our pluralistic America. Few are scientists, nearly none are social workers or union organizers. President Obama's decision to forego wealth and become a community organizer in South Chicago was mocked by Republican extremists in 2008 & 2012. Nearly no Muslims are elected in Maryland, a state whose massive Muslim population speaks over 80 languages. Native Americans, Inuit & Hawaiians struggle to win seats in the lands of their respective ancestors. Arab & Iranian Americans have become captains of industry and champions in business, yet they too are greatly underrepresented in office. Women are nowhere near 52% of our legislators. A man who casually jokes about sexual assault sits in the Oval Office. These facts, especially that last one, must be addressed. 

Empowering remarkable public candidates from these diverse personal narratives is the overarching political mission of The Pluralism Project. The social mission is to help Americans from different communities, states and tribes to come to know one other, understand one another's public policy stances; to help those candidates work together towards an America that is not ruled by the populism of the vocal minority that elected a man of hate to the highest office in the land.

We plan to start by training candidates through the end of the year on how to be a candidate: how to fundraise, how to campaign in public, put together a field plan, and build a coalition around them of supporters and voters to carry them to the finish line. We'll also go over public speaking, political strategizing, and most importantly: brief the candidates continuously about public policy matters affecting their local communities and how they can help shape law and policy to serve their electorates and fellow Americans--regardless of the color of their passport. 

My grandfather began a mission to change how politics worked against the everyday people of his country by hijacking their democracy. Today, I am finishing his work in my own country, insha'Allah.

Thank you, Naana Abu. 

The Case for a Living Wage.

 

 

I recognize that many people think of the $15 minimum wage proposal in Montgomery County as another example of "Progressives Gone Wild". Allow me to dispel that notion.

Over the past month, I have met and interviewed dozens of students at Montgomery College who are responsible for paying their own tuition. Many of them are phenomenal students, maintaining GPAs of 3.5 and above. Yet they struggle with paying tuition because they do not qualify for grants, as their parents have middle class incomes in the county and region where cost-of-living are some of the highest in the country. Many of the students work minimum-wage jobs as much as 30 or 40 hours a week in order to afford their college expenses and tuition. Those long work hours keep them away from their studies and also inhibit both their enthusiasm and confidence when it came to applying to four year higher learning institutions. This is because many are not sure how they will afford to continue their future educations. Seven out of every 10 of the students I spoke to were young women, nearly all of whom were often paid less than their male peer. More often than not, they belonged to a minority background. However, many of them were young white women, as well.  

Montgomery County cannot continue to be one of the most desirable places to live, work and grow up if our young people have to sacrifice their higher education goals in order to just financially survive. I recognize that many small businesses and retailers will argue that they will need  to choose between hiring a young person or persons of color who has less experience any person of non-minority background with slightly more experience, should there be an increase in our county's minimum wage. However, I am not convinced that any county as pluralistic and diverse as our own that employers will shun those potential employees with the greatest need if they can do the work.

My father was a small business owner who employed a workforce at his company that often time was made up exclusively of minorities for 20 years. I remember hearing French, Spanish, Albanian, Turkish, Punjabi, and Hindi/Urdu on a regular basis when visiting his office. I asked him what he thought of a $15 minimum wage, his answer: it is a moral requirement in our day and age. 

We cannot pretend that living in our county has not become a great deal more expensive since when I was a boy. Whether or not these costs are relatively higher or even lower than comparable other regions is not relevant. What is relevant is the absolute reality that to live comfortably in our region now costs more than $80,000 a year in salary. Working-class and middle-class families are being denied a comfortable standard of living because they are being priced out. We need a living wage. 15 dollars an hour is a good start.

The Maryland Trust Act

"What is America? It is a collection of immigrants jawaan baytah (youthful son), coming together to rise and succeed. It takes an extraordinary person to take the risk of crossing borders from everything they knew and held dear to come to a new world. Americans are made extraordinary not by those who are born here, but by those who come here. We must protect their sense of belonging and welcome in our society."

 -Dad

My father came here as a student 32 years ago as a young man with no clue how to make it in a country whose culture and idioms he had not concept of. He raised two children with disabilities without proper nouns in his native tongue, founded two successful companies, put a roof over the heads of countless relatives in addition to our immediate family, and survived the economic crash of 08 by being a man of courage of conviction. He brought the best of his culture--honor, humility, gumption, undeterred conviction to America, and gave jobs to Americans and his fellow New Americans alike.

The Maryland Trust Act makes sure that immigrants like my father feel secure while living that their extraordinary lives as people who bravely chose a new life in a new world. New Americans built Maryland, and are taking us all with them to higher heights every single day. I urge Senators Bobby Zirkin and Jim Brochin of Baltimore County to look beyond the bogeyman that Larry Hogan and Donald Trump have caracatured our immigrant communities as, and vote with their hearts in favor of the Trust Act as a moral statement of who we are as Marylanders. I urge you both to consider the plight of thousands of Marylanders who braved unimaginable challenges to come to our emerald state's shores for a chance at a better life, and are now living in fear merely because of the color of their passports. Please, pass the Maryland Trust Act. 

The Maryland Trust Act

"What is America? It is a collection of immigrants jawaan baytah (youthful son), coming together to rise and succeed. It takes an extraordinary person to take the risk of crossing borders from everything they knew and held dear to come to a new world. Americans are made extraordinary not by those who are born here, but by those who come here. We must protect their sense of belonging and welcome in our society."

 -Dad

My father came here as a student 32 years ago as a young man with no clue how to make it in a country whose culture and idioms he had not concept of. He raised two children with disabilities without proper nouns in his native tongue, founded two successful companies, put a roof over the heads of countless relatives in addition to our immediate family, and survived the economic crash of 08 by being a man of courage of conviction. He brought the best of his culture--honor, humility, gumption, undeterred conviction to America, and gave jobs to Americans and his fellow New Americans alike.

The Maryland Trust Act makes sure that immigrants like my father feel secure while living that their extraordinary lives as people who bravely chose a new life in a new world. New Americans built Maryland, and are taking us all with them to higher heights every single day. I urge Senators Bobby Zirkin and Jim Brochin of Baltimore County to look beyond the bogeyman that Larry Hogan and Donald Trump have caracatured our immigrant communities as, and vote with their hearts in favor of the Trust Act as a moral statement of who we are as Marylanders. I urge you both to consider the plight of thousands of Marylanders who braved unimaginable challenges to come to our emerald state's shores for a chance at a better life, and are now living in fear merely because of the color of their passports. Please, pass the Maryland Trust Act. 

The Maryland Trust Act

"What is America? It is a collection of immigrants jawaan baytah (youthful son), coming together to rise and succeed. It takes an extraordinary person to take the risk of crossing borders from everything they knew and held dear to come to a new world. Americans are made extraordinary not by those who are born here, but by those who come here. We must protect their sense of belonging and welcome in our society."

 -Dad

My father came here as a student 32 years ago as a young man with no clue how to make it in a country whose culture and idioms he had not concept of. He raised two children with disabilities without proper nouns in his native tongue, founded two successful companies, put a roof over the heads of countless relatives in addition to our immediate family, and survived the economic crash of 08 by being a man of courage of conviction. He brought the best of his culture--honor, humility, gumption, undeterred conviction to America, and gave jobs to Americans and his fellow New Americans alike.

The Maryland Trust Act makes sure that immigrants like my father feel secure while living that their extraordinary lives as people who bravely chose a new life in a new world. New Americans built Maryland, and are taking us all with them to higher heights every single day. I urge Senators Bobby Zirkin and Jim Brochin of Baltimore County to look beyond the bogeyman that Larry Hogan and Donald Trump have caracatured our immigrant communities as, and vote with their hearts in favor of the Trust Act as a moral statement of who we are as Marylanders. I urge you both to consider the plight of thousands of Marylanders who braved unimaginable challenges to come to our emerald state's shores for a chance at a better life, and are now living in fear merely because of the color of their passports. Please, pass the Maryland Trust Act. 

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A Blog Post About My Father

 My father at his desk.&nbsp;

My father at his desk. 

I haven't blogged in a while, and tonight's blog post is a heart-felt one about my father's journey in America and beyond. 

Abu came to America in love with my mom, and wanting to live in a free society where he could practice his faith, raise a family and get an education. His first boss later became one of his first hires when he launched his own business a decade after coming to America. Abu would struggle and toil to launch his business, sometimes not coming home until 11 or 12 at night, and rarely before 9. He experienced a string of busts because of a slight language barrier, and also because of his personal sense of duty unto others--not taking the quick buck if it would compromise his integrity. What really drove him was his faith in his Creator. When faced with a major crisis with a major crisis when I was a baby, Abu cooly told a friend: "I'm not worried. I trust God." Within days, the crisis was averted thanks to a miracle. Eventually, he made it in America.

Around then, filial piety kicked in and Abu decided to open the second-ever back office and call center for an American business in Pakistan. The idea made business sense, but until then only in India. Abu worried what was happening in his home country in the early 2000s, and wanted to give people hope that good works and faith together with some elbow grease could make a better world. Abu went on to employ scores of young people in Pakistan to help support his business here at home, making jobs in a country where 54% of the skilled, college-trained labor force was unemployed.

A lot of those young people Abu employed got a chance to earn a living and feel a sense of self-worth many would not have found otherwise in a country that has few job opportunities for their college graduates. Young, urbane, middle class young people in the Muslim World are often listless and seeking out their place in the world, and many become radicalized while seeking out their identity (Check out Foreign Policy for more about that). Abu helped make sure countless young people didn't go that route. For him, it was a matter of honor and principle: provide the opportunity to help improve lives on both sides of world, and through that use one's wealth and talents to repair our world. Abu never outsourced any jobs, and he never fired an employee because their task was made redundant by having a back office in Pakistan. Instead, he was able to hire more employees here in America than he had before.

After a long break, today my father is working on a business model that will find a way to bring people together. I am already proud of how hard he worked to make both the American Dream and the Pakistani Dream a reality. I can't wait to see how he will work to make our would a better place, insha'Allah.

Post Script:

I hadn't thought about Abu's life in terms of the #ImmigrationBan and the hateful rhetoric targeting immigrants today in America. To reflect for a moment: my father is quiet, reflective man. He often told me growing up that to talk too much was a sign of ignorance, and to listen and observe was the sign of true intelligence. My father weathered the financial crash of 2008 with grit and humility. Today, in spite of the political hostility to immigrants and Muslims, he wants to be a job creator again. The other night, Abu said to me: "Americans are at their core good people, and I want to help the world see that." I do too, Dad. 

Rest in Peace, Elie Wiesel

Yesterday, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel died at age 87. An accomplished author who knew the power of words all too well, Wiesel chose to devote his life to furthering the art of the written word. His short novels, Night, an account of the tragic events of Wiesel's time at Aushwitz and Buchenwald during the Holocaust, and Dawn, a novel about the loss of innocence in the struggle to free Israel from British rule, had a profound impact on me as a young adult in high school and college. Both novels played a role in my decision to become a bridge builder between Muslims and Jews around the world. I also read Wiesel's novel The Judges, semi-existential modern-day parable about how to respond to evil and the perversion of what exactly is "good" by many seeking power, one summer after a particularly morally-challenging semester in college. Needless to say, Wiesel had a profound impact on me as a young American man.

But it was Wiesel's outspoken insistence that we Americans save the lives of Muslims being massacred in the tens of thousands by Russian-supported Serbian forces in Bosnia that left the deepest impression on me as a human being.

During the two decades leading up to disintegration of the multi-ethnic, religiously diverse Yugoslavia, Yugoslavia's government were firm supporters of the Palestinian cause, and broke ties with Israel following the Six Day War that were not re-established until 1991. Yugoslavia's ruling strongman, Tito, was a major supporter of Arab nationalism, especially as Arab nationalism from the 1950s until the 1990s was fervently anti-Islamic. Yugoslav policy was to repress Islam among the Bosnian population of Yugoslavia, promoting secular nationalism. As a nod to keep Bosnia's Muslims from completely turning against their government, Tito publicly and firmly supported the Palestine Liberation Organization, then led by Yasser Arafat. The PLO would not recognize Israel's right to exist until after Yugoslavia collapsed, and would carry out horrific acts of anti-Semitic violence across the globe with Yugoslav-provided weapons and armaments for several decades.

Upon Tito's death and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Bosnia's Muslims called for independence on the ground that their religious freedoms and cultural identity had been forcefully repressed under a Serb-dominated Yugoslavia. Croats and Muslims in Kosovo demanded the same right. Serbia launched a multi-pronged war and mass-extermination campaign against all who opposed their continued rule within a new Serbian state that sought to dominate non-Serbs. Given that Serb nationalists blamed Bosnians and their Islamic faith for centuries of nominal rule by Ottoman Turkey in the recent past, Serb forces focused their efforts on exterminating Bosnia's Muslims first and foremost.

In 1993, while the Clinton administration was fully engaged in trying to save Bosnian lives, our post-colonial European allies were not. The result was a divided NATO, coupled with crushing negative public opinion for another foreign intervention (we were disastrously engaged in Somalia at the time) weakened our country's ability to do much of anything to bring an end to Serbia's reign of terror. As a result: 250,000 Muslim lives would be lost before America would bring its full force to bear to end the Bosnian Genocide.

But on April 22 of that year, at the grand opening of the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., Elie Wiesel ditched his written remarks and instead made a plea to America to end its isolationism, and save the lives of Bosnia's Muslims. That is to say: Wiesel reached out to save Bosnian Muslims from annihilation on the principle of Never Again should any people be subject to the horrors of a genocide. Wiesel's morality and commitment to what was right, and his public siding with the voiceless cause of Bosnia's Muslims remains a virtuous act that will forever bless his name and memory. 

Elie Wiesel was a literary giant who shaped my personal identity and sense of social justice had passed away. He was more than just the author of "Night", "Dawn", "The Judges" and countless other stories about morality and principle in our world. Wiesel was a man who acted upon his beliefs for the sake of others.

May God grant Elie Wiesel peace in the hereafter, as he championed peace and justice for all in the here and now.