The Domestic Crusaders
What does it feel like to be a Muslim today, in the era of Trump? How can we come together to overcome Islamophobia and harmful stereotypes? Wajahat Ali—who regularly appears on CNN to discuss politics, and is a New York Times Contributing Op-Ed Writer—is a new kind of public intellectual: young, exuberant, and optimistic. He speaks on the multifaceted Muslim American experience, and an emergent generation poised for social change.
Wajahat Ali is a journalist, writer, lawyer, an award-winning playwright, a TV host, and a consultant for the U.S. State Department. As Creative Director of Affinis Labs, he worked to create social entrepreneurship initiatives that have a positive impact for marginalized communities, and to empower social entrepreneurs, young leaders, creatives, and communities to come up with innovative solutions to tackle world problems. Beginning in early 2017, Affinis Labs launched a global startup incubator network, aimed at identifying and fostering “emerging entrepreneurial talent from around the world that understands what makes the global Islamic economy special.”
Previously, Ali helped launch the Al Jazeera America network as co-host of Al Jazeera America’s The Stream, a daily news show that extended the conversation to social media and beyond. He was also a National Correspondent, Political Reporter, and Social Media Expert for Al Jazeera America. He focused on stories of communities and individuals often marginalized or under-reported in mainstream media. Ali is also the author of The Domestic Crusaders—the first major play about Muslim Americans, post-9/11—which was published by McSweeney’s and performed off-Broadway and at the Kennedy Center. Currently, with Dave Eggers, Ali is writing a television show about a Muslim American cop in the Bay Area. Additionally, he is a Peabody-nominated Producer of the series The Secret Life of Muslims. He was also the lead author and researcher of “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” the seminal report from the Center for American Progress.
In 2012, Ali worked with the U.S. Department of State to design and implement the “Generation Change” leadership program to empower young social entrepreneurs. He initiated chapters in eight countries, including Pakistan and Singapore. He was honored as a “Generation Change Leader” by Sec. of State Clinton and as an “Emerging Muslim American Artist” by the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Ali has given many presentations, from Google to the United Nations to Princeton to The Abu Dhabi Book Festival. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, and Salon. He regularly appears on CNN to discuss politics and current affairs.
Modern Islamophobia, Wajahat Ali argues, is rooted in age-old anxiety—the fear of the “unknowable other.” And post-Trump America—divided and confused, full of tremendous uncertainty—seems like yet another tired remake. From mosque protests to anti-Sharia laws, white supremacy to widening polarization, America can often feel like an intolerant space, where regular Muslims and other diverse communities are the frequent targets of bigotry and far-right ideology.
But Ali imagines an America remade—united over our shared values, not torn apart by racism or hate. Our country can achieve its pluralistic potential, he says. But first, we’ll need to emerge from our partisan cocoons, reach across the aisle, and build lasting partnerships. We need to see religious and cultural difference as the ideas that can bring us together, not rip us apart. And we have to create what he calls a “Multicultural Coalition of the Willing”: a sort of Justice League of diverse Americans who can unite over commonalities. We can resist the forces of bigotry, Ali insists; and in this keynote, he imagines a way to achieve the American Dream for everyone.
Wajahat Ali’s global leadership program—“Generation Change”—taught storytelling and social media skills to young change agents and social entrepreneurs in eight countries. Now, Ali shares those lessons in a keynote that is tailor-made for college and business audiences. How can entrepreneurs and change agents use storytelling to find their mission, purpose, and passion? How can they communicate their vision to a global audience? And how can social media help them bypass traditional gatekeepers and grow their brand and their mission?
Wajahat Ali was a shy, overweight, perpetually sick, left-handed only-child of Pakistani immigrants. He was born in America, but only learned to speak English at the age of five. How did this dorky kid end up becoming an attorney, an award-winning playwright, and the co-host of a popular daily talk show? In this talk, Ali charts his strange growth from the awkward fifth-grader who almost got kicked out of school to the leader of the Muslim Student Association of UC Berkeley who became an “accidental activist” after 9/11. This eventful journey—which eventually took him to Al Jazeera America—is a funny, heartfelt, and, believe it or not, relatable story of courage, success, and unstoppable ambition.
How can Muslim Americans—a highly educated, diverse group numbering four million people—become the heroes of their own narratives? Islamophobia exploits the gap between the perception and reality of Muslims and Islam, and has cast Muslim Americans as villains in the post-9/11, post-Trump global soap opera. This important problem has profound implications on culture, politics, society, and even national security. In this talk, Wajahat Ali reveals the true nature of this complex issue and how it can be overcome. Americans—of all ethnicities and religious persuasions—can and must unite to ensure that this scapegoating never happens to anyone else, regardless of race, orientation, religion, or creed. We must look to our past to pave the way for a dynamic, bold future for Muslim Americans.