Posted by Arab American Institute on August 01, 2012 in Blog
By Johara Hall
2012 Summer Intern
Majid Al-Bahadli’s story is not that of your typical Democratic National Convention delegate. In fact, it is far from it. Born in Basra, Iraq, Al-Bahadili has been politically active since his youth despite the constraints of Saddam Hussein’s oppressive regime. Even after the execution of his uncle and cousins for working against Saddam’s regime, Al-Bahadli participated in an uprising at the age of twenty-three to topple Saddam soon after the beginning of the First Gulf War. Although the U.S. encouraged those like Al-Bahadli to rise up against their government, it later pulled back its support, forcing them to leave the country in hopes of avoiding persecution. Many of those who stayed lost their lives. If Al-Bahadli stayed in Iraq, he would most likely have faced the same fate. “I couldn’t stay in Iraq; I knew I would die if I stayed. I had to escape.” Through what seems like an escape story from the movies, Al-Bahadli was able to cross the Iraqi border into Saudi Arabia and surrendered to an American soldier. Instead of being given refuge, Al-Bahadli was arrested and sent to a prison camp in Saudi Arabia where he was imprisoned for five years along with others who resisted Saddam’s regime. Through a long process, Al-Bahadli was finally able to leave Saudi Arabia and arrived in Seattle as a legal resident alien and seven years later became an American citizen.
Upon arrival to the U.S., Al-Bahadli became increasingly politically active. For him, “it is particularly important that people have a voice. A successful country cannot have a people with no voice.” He continued, “I no longer want to be in the shade and in a dark place. Why can’t we all be involved? Why should you let others make decisions for us?” It is this viewpoint that motivated Al-Bahadli to run for DNC delegate in 2008. When he did run, Al-Bahadli racked up 90% of the vote – an incredible victory. As the first Iraqi-American delegate to attend the DNC as well as the first Arab American delegate from Washington State to attend, Al-Bahadli made history. “I was so honored to have the opportunity to make change and to represent my fellow Arab Americans.” Given Al-Bahadli’s popularity in Denver, it is no surprise that he will attend the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m so thrilled to be going to Charlotte because this election is a very important one and we have a lot of work ahead of us.”
Al-Bahadli’s ability to represent his community at the DNC is a result of his continuous political and social involvement. He has been particularly active in aiding the local Iraqi community of Washington State. Of the over 50,000 Arab Americans in the state, approximately 20,000 are Iraqis. This number has been steadily increasing since the beginning of the war in Iraq. As a result “it has become paramount for us to try and get Iraqi-Americans involved. I have been doing a lot of voter registration work, which is incredibly important, especially for us.” He continued, “you know, we came from a country where voting was a farce. Here it actually means something, it actually matters.”
Given Al-Bahadli’s outlook, he believes organizations such as the Arab American Institute are essential to promoting an active Arab American populace. “The work of AAI allows us on the other end of the country to receive updates on political events and meetings that affect the Arab American population. Through my AAI membership, I feel like I am in Washington DC and close to those fighting for us, despite being on the other side of the country.”
When asked what advice he had for fellow Arab Americans who are interested in becoming politically active, Al-Bahadli said, “Raise your voice. Although we have a strong Arab heritage, we are Americans and we need to push harder to become more involved and to be part of our communities. This way, any decision made by the President or by governors or any other elected officials is a decision we allowed. This is the only way for the Arab American voice to be heard… this is why I want to go to the DNC, I want for America to be aware that we exist, that we have a voice, and that they need to listen to us as a part of their community.”