Valuing our Pluralism

The Pluralism Project is dedicated to training 400 candidates 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. 

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. 

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.