A: I think what this means is that the counterrevolution is alive and well. You had revolutions in various Arab Muslim countries, and that really gave the whole nation an opportunity for democracy. And the people who don’t want that won’t take it lying down.
Q: How should the United States confront this?
A: I do believe you have to fight al-Qaida. But that’s the smallest part of the problem. What we do need to do is strengthen the forces of democracy . . . broaden our trade relationships. Right now, we’re focused on petroleum and natural gas. We need to find out what they’re ready to make, we’ll buy some of it, and sell some of our stuff. We need to promote entrepreneurship. Get together to trade products. You can’t give enough foreign aid to a country to bring it into [the] middle class. They have to power themselves. . . .
Some say: Why give foreign aid to any of these people? Why don’t we close our embassy? There’s talk like that. This is the wrong direction.
Q: Many Americans are busy trying to translate what all this means about the Muslim world. Are American Muslims focused on it as well?
A: Two-thirds of American Muslims were born elsewhere. But their kids don’t have their same questions.
Q: Where do you get your information about man-on-the-street views in the Muslim world?
A: I have little groups I talk with — a bunch of Libyans, Egyptians, people who actually live in Israel. I talk with people from Yemen. Last week when [Congress was] in session, a group came from Egypt, Tunisia, Libya — newly elected people from Morocco and Jordan. Some were Salafi. They participated in an election. They had to make an argument to a voter. You have to respect who they are. They may have a very orthodox and devout practice, but they still believe in the democratic process.
Q: What do you hear from Muslim Americans about all this?
A: [The] Muslim American community is bifurcated in terms of age. Younger people say: This is interesting as a foreign policy conversation but I need to talk about here. That’s extremely common. They want to talk Islamophobia, the younger people. The older people are just glad to be here. Shut up and keep your head down.
Q: How has the post-Sept. 11 decade changed these views?
A: The people I talk to are as concerned about anti-Muslim hate as much as ever before. One thing they commonly complain about is, if you make a slur against blacks you’ll be in trouble. But if you say some crazy stuff about Muslims no one cares. I think it’s actually gotten worse. I think in 2001 we were in a better place than we are now. Then, there were people who didn’t like Muslims, but now there is an industry to pump out negativity. You have [Republican congresswoman] Michele Bachmann [of Minnesota] going around saying the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the government. You can count on something like this every two months.
●Serves on the House Financial Services Committee; House Democratic Steering & Policy Committee.
●Co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus for the 112th Congress; is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
●Before Congress: practiced law and was a community activist; also served two terms in the Minnesota State House of Representatives.
● Hometown: Detroit.
● Earned a law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1990.
●Is the father of four children.