Yes, I confess: I went to Israel. With the Shalom Hartman Institute, which is proudly Zionist, unlike me, and entirely opposed to “BDS” (boycott, divestment, sanctions), unlike me. More than that, I didn’t go alone. I went with 15 other American Muslims leaders. They had their own reasons, just as I had mine: America — and the Iraq War.
Back in college, I was the very picture of the earnest activist: “Enough demonstrations and we’ll change the world!” I helped bring tens of thousands to the streets to stop a belli without casus. Forget the Arab street: This was the American street. But Operation Iraqi Freedom, a war as unnecessary as it turned out tragic, proceeded as if our numbers meant nothing.
We were steamrolled. Ignored. Disregarded. Even though we were in the right, even though we could’ve saved our country so much harm — and Iraq so much more. I wondered what I might do to prevent this from happening again. For one thing, I needed to contribute to the conversations that led to these kinds of decisions. That meant I needed to be in the rooms where they happened. But I also needed to bring more than my identity to the table.
Because I was usually reduced to an identity. Muslim. Pakistani. Foreign. Other. Which meant biased. Partial. Insufficient. This is why Reza Aslan gets challenged (not very successfully, I happily might add) over his ‘right’ to write a book about Jesus, while Duck Dynasty gets to pontificate about radical Islam while looking like radical Islam.