By Janet Williams
Aysha Ahmed is a lot of things. The young Noblesville woman is British, Pakistani, Muslim.
And most of all, she is American.
She took center stage last year at a Columbus, Ohio, rally where vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine was campaigning. As a volunteer in Columbus, Ohio for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, she was asked to speak at a rally about her family’s immigrant experience.
So, before Kaine spoke, Ahmed talked about her family’s journey from Pakistan to the United Kingdom, where she was born, and then, in 1998 to the United States. Her journey took her to Indiana University, where she earned a degree in International Studies.
“Not every woman of my background gets a chance like that,” she said.
True, but not many young women of any background are as committed as she is to getting involved and being heard.
She was among dozens who were at the Indiana Statehouse recently where the Muslim Alliance of Indiana organized a day of speakers and activities highlighting the Muslim experience in America.
Ahmed calls herself a civil engagement junkie because “that’s what makes me feel most American.”
That’s what America is to many of us — a feeling that we are all part of something bigger than ourselves, that we can speak out, get involved, immerse ourselves in our communities.
And it isn’t defined by race, religion or the place where one was born.
David Hampton, pastor of Light of the World Christian Church and a deputy mayor in Indianapolis, captured that sentiment at the Muslim Day event.
Looking across a room filled with people of all races and religions, he said, “This is what America is. This is what American looks like.”
He’s right, but too often we forget that point.
It seems like every generation or so we as a nation attempt to redefine what it means to be an American. During World War I the answer was anybody who wasn’t German, which is part of the reason why my German immigrant grandmother and her family did their best to blend in and lose their accents.
Then came the post-World War II era — if you weren’t anti-communist you were anti-American.
Today, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the election of Donald Trump, Muslims are the ones painted as un-American.
That makes them targets for hate and violence. The Islamic Center of North America was vandalized and their sign was shot up with bullets last year.
One of the issues discussed at the Muslim Day event was the need for a hate crime bill. Ahmed was among those waiting for a robust discussion of what happened when a hate — or bias — crime bill died in a Senate committee because the legislation did not have enough support to pass.
There was a good discussion, all right, but it was between two men who agree that Indiana should no longer be among the five states without hate crime legislation. Rep. Greg Porter, D-Indianapolis, and David Sklar, government affairs director with the Jewish Community Relations Council, discussed the bill, which called for enhanced penalties at sentencing for committing a crime based on a victim’s religions, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender.
Missing was Sen. Mike Delph, a Carmel Republican who opposed the bill. His aides said he was tied up in a caucus meeting. That’s too bad, because he missed out on the chance to engage in that most American of activities — open and free debate.
For Ahmed, it was disappointing that the hate crimes bill died this year, but it just reinforces her determination to stay engaged as a young Muslim woman. Her message to her community? “We’re here in Indiana and we’re here to stay.”
What could be more American than that?
Janet Williams is editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She can be reached at [email protected].