Presidential Campaign

As a Muslim American from the South, I know unity is everything

American flag
American flag

E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”  

This simple but powerful motto has earned a place on the Seal of the United States since the time of the American Revolution.  It is on the coins and paper money we carry with us every day.

The phrase reflects and embraces the greatness of our country.  Out of many states, peoples, races, religions, languages and ancestries, one nation has emerged. Our nation — the United States of America.

{mosads}Our motto’s meaning is personal to me. I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town in rural Tennessee. It was there that I learned the values of America: Respecting my fellow citizens and taking pride in being an American, and admiring our country’s past that has been marked by the sacrifices of millions of people before us.

Their sacrifices positioned our great land as a model democracy, as a leader in promoting the values of freedom and equality in an increasingly complicated world.

I am also a Muslim. Watching the presidential campaign unfold, I have found myself praying many times for the soul of our country. In all of my astonishment, I have hoped that every American would take a closer look at the currency in their pocket to ponder the same motto that guided our Founding Fathers centuries ago.


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This election, sadly, has gone beyond the normal differences of partisanship. It has turned my childhood lessons upside down. Entire groups of Americans have been demonized and used as scapegoats for economic ailments, fear, and general uncertainty. These tactics have proven effective in changing polls, and they have also unleashed a Pandora’s Box of vitriol that may endure long after November passes.

These concerns hit even closer to home as I learned from friends and family in Los Angeles about the recent plot by Mark Lucian Feigin to terrorize their mosque.

The time for better, more meaningful communication in this country is now. People do not live among, work with, or even speak to others who think differently from them. We have to get to know one another, to share space at our dining tables, to open our conversations. We have to learn to respect each other again as human beings.

When attacked, offer a hand to those attacking; offer to talk. Get to know each other. Make the time to discuss what’s happening. This is how we heal. If you fear me, ask a question. Come talk to me, volunteer beside me, work with me.

Those who may be skeptical about this prescription should come on down to where I now live — Nashville, Tennessee. As a U.S. citizen who is Arab-American, Muslim-American, and a woman, I can testify that my prescription works.

It is in the American South, for example, where I have been able to build bridges with people who, without knowing me, have done everything from question my American identity to threaten my physical well-being — simply because of my religion and ancestry.

Just as Nashville showed courage and leadership during the Women’s Suffrage movement in the early 1900s and during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, it is once again creating the space for important national conversations to take place for the purpose of embracing all who live here and discussing the possibilities for the future as we evolve into a minority-majority city.


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I want to help build my community, the rural South and the United States just as much as you do. I cannot do it alone. I need you and you need me. Our future is shared. We want our families to be safe and have access to upward mobility from one generation to the next. We cannot afford to let cynicism rule the day and unravel what the rest of the world admires about us.  

My advice for our future is simple. I learned it growing up in Waverly, Tenn., hometown of country music legend Loretta Lynn. Open up. Invite someone new to your holiday festival. Be willing to try new things and bring new people around to share in your old traditions.

In essence, be American.

In less than a week, we will decide who the next president of the United States will be and we must choose the candidate who will not fight hate with hate. We must rise up and respect our election results because that is what we do as a democracy. 

We have a duty on November 8 to preserve our functioning democracy that protects human dignity and defines civility by appropriate actions.  

Ali is a national security expert, an international lawyer, and law professor at Vanderbilt University as well as a Nashville Human Relations Commissioner. Previously, she was a White House Fellow in President Obama’s Administration,  Assistant Commissioner for International Affairs and Economic Development in Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s Administration, and served on Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s Transition Team.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill. 


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