As the LDS Church has said, America should be a place free of religious bigotry.
Chances are you don’t know Dilawar Syed. He is an immigrant, a US citizen, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the Wharton School of Business. He is a successful businessman who has served as both CEO and COO at major corporations. He is also President Joe Biden’s nominee for Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration endorsed by the United States Chamber of Commerce and endorsed by more than two hundred business leaders.
He is also a Muslim.
The recent publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sharing perspectives and building trust between the Mormon faith and Muslims is something to admire. It speaks of the best ideals of our nation and within us. This post couldn’t be more timely. It reminded me of both the urgency and the need for such conversations.
Syed’s nomination for deputy administrator was hit in confirmation limbo with the unusual reality of Republican members refusing to allow a quorum to form. Multiple efforts to decipher their objections have been narrowed down to his faith and previous support from Muslim advocacy groups encouraging voter and civic participation.
If confirmed, Syed would become the highest-ranking Muslim appointed to our government. The Republicans’ refusal to vote was followed at best by passive silence and at worst by unfounded allegations of anti-Israel bias. This latest recrimination fuels the worst stereotypes assuming that all Muslims are opposed to American Jews and Israel and are anti-Semitic. This unfounded bias prompted a coalition of Jewish organizations to come to Syed’s defense. They condemned the attack on Syed’s ethnicity, faith and Muslim advocacy work as an attack on his personality.
The promise of America and the American dream has been met with passive fanaticism opposing a qualified candidate based solely on his faith. The American dream draws others to this great nation with the promise that here you can worship without fear or persecution. It is based on the idea that your culture, your traditions and your faith can thrive in freedom. Your efforts, citizenship, willingness to serve, and skills will determine your success, not where you worship.
Syed is an American citizen. Yet his religion is still a hindrance in 2022. That’s why the LDS pamphlet was so timely. We have a qualified person who is turned down due to where they worship. Our best ideals are undermined by fear, misunderstanding and bigotry. We no longer rely on merit, hard work, skill as our guiding prism. Instead, we are seduced by our base instincts which divide rather than seek understanding.
We are not perfect, yet it is the movement towards perfection that keeps our promise. Our ideals of justice, equality, fairness and truth under the guiding principles of our Constitution are what everyone deserves. Martin Luther King said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” The actions of those who would oppose Syed’s appointment are committing both acts motivated by their animosity towards his faith.
A few weeks ago, I read with great admiration the positive effort made by the LDS leadership to build a bridge of understanding with the Muslim community. I hope their feelings are enough to reverse the trend of discrimination. Americans like Syed deserve no less.
Sim Gill is the Salt Lake County District Attorney.