Only in America: Majid Al-Bahadli, Iraqi Delegate 2008
Majid Al-Bahadli, Obama delegate from Washington State, danced on the floor of the Democratic National Convention, cheered on by members of his state’s delegation, this past August. How he came to be there, the only Iraqi delegate on the floor, is an inspiration to us all.
Born and raised in Iraq, the budding political activist knew the risks of opposing Saddam’s regime: in 1980, his uncle and cousins, and many other family members, were executed for it. When Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1991, Majid heeded the United States’ call to rise up against him. But when the U.S. withdrew and power was restored to the dictator, Majid’s life was at risk. He slipped through the border checkpoints and surrendered to an American soldier. For nearly five years, he lived in a prisoner of war camp in the Saudi desert. Finally, a United Nations delegation entered the camp and conducted the interviews that would lead to Majid’s release as a political refugee in 1995, and later to his naturalization as an American citizen. There were some difficult years between his arrival in the U.S. and the day he became a citizen in 2000-although politics is his passion, he lay low for fear that his actions might jeopardize his impending naturalization. Today, he works fearlessly to get out the vote in his adopted Seattle, Washington. He is a warm and gracious person whose enthusiasm for American politics is inspirational and infectious. He won his position as delegate in a landslide vote, with 87% in support of his bid to travel to Colorado.
In a recent interview with LAWeekly, Majid reminded us all of how good we’ve really got it, in a country that has never had to vote in a dictatorship: “Where I come from, it was one ballot and one name. You guys don’t know what you have here with democracy. Half the country doesn’t participate! I don’t get it. You vote for who you want and have no fear of being killed. This is an incredible luxury.” AAI president James Zogby tells a similar tale, of a conversation several years ago in Ohio. When asked if he was organizing Arab Americans to vote because they come from countries where people cannot vote, Dr. Zogby replied, “No. I’m organizing Arab Americans to vote because they came to a country where people do not vote.”
This week, AAI had the pleasure of speaking to Majid by phone. When we asked him what his greatest hopes for the next administration might be, in a warm voice he told us he hoped to see a great change in the government. “I want the United States to get its dignity back,” he said, “and get its integrity back.” He hopes that we might be able to solve the problems in the Middle East this time around. A good wish for the country, indeed.
So, how do you top a story like this one? You take Majid’s inspiration, courage, and determination to heart and you exercise your right to vote this November 4th.
About the Arab American Institute
Founded in 1985, the Arab American Institute (AAI) is a nonprofit organization committed to the civic and political empowerment of Americans of Arab descent. AAI provides policy, research and public affairs services to support a broad range of community activities. For more information on AAI, please visit http://www.aaiusa.org or call 202-429-9210.
About Yalla Vote
Yalla Vote, an initiative of the Arab American Institute, strives to empower and engage Arab Americans in the political process at all levels, grass roots to grass top. This year, the Yalla Vote campaign, “Our Voice. Our Future. Yalla Vote ‘08”, is organizing Arab Americans across the country to vote for the candidates they feel will work to resolve the issues of concern to our community, as outlined by the National Declaration. Throughout this campaign cycle, Yalla Vote ‘08 initiatives will train Arab Americans to get out the vote, mobilize Arab Americans to vote, and provide forums for Arab Americans to speak to candidates about the issues that concern us most. For more details, please visit http://www.yallavote.org/.