Published December 24, 2008

9/11 gave us unique set of opportunities also.

Being represented is what I care most about.

Clinton will be good for Pakistan.

Ibrahim Khan, Communications Director for NYS Senator Brian Foley

As the South Asian community matures in North America, so does its political involvement especially in the second and third generation. Ibrahim Khan is an example with potential to inspire youth in South Asian particularly Muslims community. He was nine years old when he came from Karachi to Long Island. He took Political Science and English in University of Albany because he cared about making voice of the South Asian community heard. Although his family is not involved in politics, politics was discussed at his home in living room. He was he President of Muslim Student Association at University of Albany whereby for the first time in any NYS college, classes were suspended on Eid day. He was also the Editor of his college magazine. Being the Editor of the college magazine has helped him in his current job as a Communications Director to Senator Brian Foley.

Ibrahim started working as an aide for Assemblyman Ramos while being in college as NYS Assembly was only a block away from University of Albany. He has worked with quite a few New York State legislatures and is most inspired by Senator Hillary Clinton who is now been nominated for the position of Secretary of State. Ibrahim has worked with Senator Clintonís campaign, Assemblyman Phil Ramos, Brookhaven Town Supervisor Brian Foley who has now been elected NYS Senator.

Every now and then, he likes to be in kitchen. But mostly he is passionate about representation of South Asian community in legislature. His presence at the political office has helped South Asian community in approaching politicians.

Here are excerpts of our conversation:

 GN: How old were you at the time of 9/11?

I was a senior at high school. It was a very challenging time, but I saw unique set of opportunities in it; it was a chance for us to talk about our culture, about our religion about our faith.

GN: Are some of us embarrassed to talk about our culture?

I donít want to speak for anybody else. If we are, itís natural..and itís unfortunate, but itís not uncommon. Weíre not the first immigrant group facing these challenges and we wonít be the last.

GN: How active are South Asians in politics?

Political involvement is a daunting task; there arenít many people ahead of you who you would just follow.

GN: There are set rituals at home, and there are different values of the society. Is there a cultural conflict going on?

At times, sure there was a clash. But mostly the values at home are the values that help you succeed in the society. At times you have to have courage to go out and try new things. More often than not, values at home are asset even at difficult circumstances.

GN: How about religion?

Mosque shaped my views and what my world looked like.

GN: Are mosques playing their role as churches or synagogues are?

My mosque played an outstanding role in my growth from basketball to learning other things. I went to Masjijd-ul-Quran at the Bayshore.

GN: After 9/11, do you think there was a market for young Muslims, young South Asians who could bring diversity to the political arena?

Sure. We do bring a certain diverse experience and I think people realize it. There is a market for diverse people who see things differently, and politics is about solving problems, the more angles you can see a problem from, the more solutions you can have.

GN: Do staffers come to you asking for an opinion about Pakistan, about Islam? Are you seen as a representative of Pakistan?

They are very curious of makeup of the country. And you have to make sure that they get the full picture and not just what CNN says. You have to tell things that they wonít hear from TV. People do see you as a representative of the community whether or not you like it.

GN: Pakistan is a country with problems like religious militancy and fundamentalism, how hard is it to explain what real Pakistan is?

It is challenging particularly because of the image shown in the media. The reality is that it is difficult for Pakistanis to explain it to themselves also. The best we can do is to be realistic by drawing a whole picture for them. People in Pakistan have immense talent and skills.

GN: How often do you visit Pakistan?

Once every two or three years. And I was raised there for the first 9 years.

GN: Whatís your impression of Pakistan?

Itís a big part of who we are; it has given us many values.

GN: How do you see yourself: Are you an American or a Pakistani?

Thatís difficult. Thereís a part of me that will always be Pakistani and at the same time this country has given me enormous opportunities that I wonít have in Pakistan.

GN: Why do South Asians mistrust politicians?

A part of it is that we come from cultural background where politics is negative. There have been a number of coups where people voted and after a couple of years their government was gone. Naturally they are apprehensive about getting involved. ďWho cares about what I sayĒ is the sentiment that has to be addressed, people need to be visible, so that their voices can be heard.

GN: Did Obamaís campaign change some of it?

One campaign cannot change things. To some degree it helped.

GN: What do you see are the challenges for South Asian youth?

Most of the challenges are similar to everybody else. Itís lack of opportunities when it comes to economy and education especially in current economic crisis.

GN: You work with legislators. Are politicians moving in the right direction with regards to economy?

Itís hard to say. Economic policies take a long time to show an impact. People are optimistic that Obama administration will do what needs to be done. Whether or not he will succeed, only time will tell. Certainly he seems to have trust of the people.

GN: What is it that South Asians should be doing in Suffolk County and are not quite doing it?

Making your voice heard, being represented is most important of all, and again itís not easy. They need to get involved, and find out things they care about; you donít have to be a politician to be represented.

GN: Can Caroline Kennedy be a substitute for Senator Clinton?

Iím very biased on this one. I donít think anyone can substitute her in terms of her work in healthcare and foreign policy. I hope someone can close to her.

GN: Were you disappointed when Obama was nominated as presidential candidate?

I was, but Barrack was the best choice.

GN: How much anger was there in Hillary camp?

It wasnít anger; it was disappointment and a lot of that was alleviated when Hillary came out and openly supported him.

GN: Do you think some people would be satisfied that she would represent our country as Secretary of State?

Obviously, she has traveled almost the entire world. People are very happy with it.

GN: America has been having female Secretaries of State for last two decades. Is there a particular reason for that?

Weíre making up of hundreds of years where there were all men.

GN: Would Clintonís being Secretary of State help Pakistan?

Absolutely. She has a unique understanding of region; she understands problems, and she is someone people really trusted in that part of the world.

GN: Whatís your take of media?

I love media. I can relate to what media is covering; I can anticipate some of the questions and I understand that media has to ask questions, so that story is fully covered.

GN: How do you feel about the story that came about Senator Monserratte?

He is innocent till proven guilty.

GN: People donít trust politicians. Donít stories like these further turn them off?

Politicians are human beings. Generally they can make mistakes, and for the most part people understand that.

GN: Will we see Ibrahim Khan running for an office in future?

Maybe youíll have to stay tuned in. 

GN: What kind of change you want to bring to politics?

We have to have representation we need is what I care most about.