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tv   Book Discussion on Life Inside the Bubble  CSPAN  February 18, 2014 9:01pm-9:48pm EST

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testify and some said don't d dignify them by testifying and others said get our opinion out. i went with the latter. i talked about a 23-year-old muslim who ran into the burning towers as a first responder on new york and died. this young muslim man paid the ultimate sacrifice for americans. and i got emotional during my testimony and that got attention. and after that, a friend name karen hunter, who is now a friend, called me and said i am a publisher and would you like
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to publish a book about your story as a muslim in congress a couple years after 9-11. my first response was i am naught sure i want to do that but i thought inclusion is important so worth telling and retelling the story. >> you start off exploring your ancest ancestry. you are from detroit. what was growing up like? >> i grow up in a two-household parent. my mother is from louisiana and is a great cook. ask cooked off the table and raised us with southern rul rural louisiana values.
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my dad was born in detroit, but his father is from georgia. so my parents are part of the great migrationi. leaving the south to the rural north. my dad was a doctor. he believed in education but he came up on the harder side of life. he taught us you have to fight for everything. and we would say there is no mer mercy were the weak. if you don't keep up, the world has harsh consequences. if i called him today he would tell me the same thing. we were raised that way. my mother was very protective, affecti affectionate and she had fire in her belly, too. so i was raised by two very
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different types. one was tougher and the other was all about her kids. and i am still lucky to have both parents with us. they are in detroit right this second. >> talk about your brothers. all of you hagraduate degrees. four lawyers and one doctor. >> my oldest brother is a primary care doctor and he takes care of the people in detroit. the people seeing him are doctors folks see first. he is a great, older brother. brian is my next older brother. he has law degree and does practice. but primarily he is a baptist
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pastor. and then there is tony, my youngest brother, and he is a lawyer. and then my baby brother eric is a lawyer in winston-salem, north carolina. and he is active in democratic polit politics and my dream is he joins me. >> you mention your father is agnostic and your mom was a catholic. talk about the role religion played in the home. >> my dad was a skeptic. i think he believes in a god and might call himself a christian but my dad is a guy who believes in the power of his own personal
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injury. he grew up seeing people manipulate religion so he is not for that. my mother goes to church sunday and wednesday. she has her rosary beads and pr prays for us. they represent two polar ops opsit -- opposites in that result -- my mother prays for my father and my father offers pragmatic advice. i came up in catholic school. but i saw it as rules. this wasn't the fault of the people educating me. i saw it as a series of don'ts.
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so i stopped -- i had a spiritual yearning, but i was not religiously involved like as a teenager even though i went to an all-boys catholic high school. i was searching in lay latter team. i found a muslim community. it worked for me and the rest is history. >> tell us about your conversion to islam in the book. and how you stumbled upon this. >> i had read malcolm-x's book and i was a fan of ali. in my mind islam involved people
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fighting from a what they believed in. i was on campus and studying with a friend and on friday he ended a study session and said i have to go to muslim prayer and he invited me to go. i saw all of these shoes outside. and everybody sitting on the floor. i saw you had folks who were white, black, asian, arab, and all kind of folks even latino. so i liked that. and then the preacher that day was talking about inclusion and how wiretapping all from one seed of adam and eve and how humanity starts from a single pair. i was intrigued. i went back and went back. i ended up converting to islam. >> after you finish college you
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leave detroit for minnesota. and in the book you said you felt as though minnesota was a place where you could make a difference, but you don't do that in detroit. tell me why. >> well, you know, you can make a difference in detroit. i am talking about the per exceptions of a 21-year-old. i am not looking at it from a 50-year-old like i am now. a needed a change of scenery. i saw a 21-year-old leaving wayne state and every other day an auto plant was shutting down, the political culture seemed like you would have to be there for a long, long time before you could get in the position to serve. although anybody can serve at any age, but the people in the leaders in that political establishment were long-time
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severs. when i got to minnesota, it seemed like the political culture was more open. it didn't depend on the length of service, but more on what can you do. and that is sort of the way i perceived the different. so i was active on campus at y wayne state ain detroit. and i found myself in a leadership position at the black law student association which i was president of. and as a young attorney there were folks who wanted me on their board boards. in detroit there was a ton of problems. no shortage of them.
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it seemed like a political environment where the people that were there had all of the answers. i love detroit. it is my home town. minneapolis is my adopted hometown now. i am grateful for detroit and i would love to see detroit and minneapolis do well: >> you severed several terms in the state legislator but you said your faith wasn't an issue until congressional run. why do you think that was the case? >> it took me by surprise. when i am running for congress, my religion is an issue. i had my pray leader come to the state legislator to offer opening prayer as we do in congress every day from different denominations and faith. i had been fasting for rom dawn.
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everybody knew i was a muslim. it was in the paper. but i think the reason it got such an interest is because in congress there is a specific role in terms of foreign policy, national security, war and peace. so many areas of the world where the united states was addressing an environment that was unstable had to do with a majority of muslim countries. in congress, a plot to attack the united states was hatched in afghanistan. we were in the midst of war in eve iraq, which i opposed. so i think those made it different. someone said, keith it is like if a japanese person ran for congress a few years after pearl
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harb harbor. you might imagine people wouldn't see you as the person, but as a member of the group. i think that is why people got excited, afraid and even abusive at some points. >> you mention your involvement with the million marathon march. you are cril critical of faircon and the nation of israel. tell us why. >> we should never take any credit away from anything. but i guess i was looking for a greater mount of direction and
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involvement after the march. if you had two million men on the mall, you had many, many more millions of people, african-americans and others perhaps ready for action right after that. there were policy prescriptions and individuals who participated did carry them on, but it seemed like nothing from the group that called the march. if -- i found it disappointing -- i thought it was a missed opportunity. but no body is pereffect. i believe we need to draw people into action skwchand the march action. but you want to talk about
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action, you are talking about talking directly to the people and organizing them around an agenda that is going to directly improve their lives. not listen to a preacher in a room or talking about other wordly-type stuff. at the end of the day, i have a bias trying address the things that are negatively impacting people and organizing people around the opportunities that are in front of them. i found there was a call made with no follow-up but look. you know, at the end of the day, that march, inspired be in part to run for office. that march inspired me to think about if we could get the level of organization we need what we can do about home placements for
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kids in foster care, the educational system, what we can do about unemployment and what we can do about the disparities in health and education. it gave me a sense of possibility and i am grateful that and the people that called it. but i think execution after the march wasn't dollar there. >> did that lack of execution lead to your political awakening? >> no. at some point i was thinking what is going to happen. once it is clear nothing was going to happen, i said i don't know what others are going to do, put i am going to get more active in the community. i am going to run in this political process. i am going to try to be a factor in terms of having justice for the every american. and that is what, you know, but i also said, we are thought in
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the koran that got created humah humanity from a single pair and made us into different nations and tribes so we can know each other, not despise each other. and i don't know have anything for a group that says one group is another even if i am in the favored group. i don't subscribe to that thinking so that is another issue. but i believe we need action orientation, human equality and that is why i am not on board with that kind of thing. >> in the book you write, and this is a direct quote, i don't want to have to support or defend anything just because i am muslim, but you are often
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called upon to do so. >> yeah, here is the thing. you can look at the issue of me being a muslim one or two ways: you can ignore it and say it is my individual business. or you can say if my colleagues needs information about what islam is, need perspective on dealing with the muslim. i am going to use this moment in time to serve to improve on this idea of inclusion in america and so that is kind of what i have done. i have decided that whether than than flee from the situation i am going to go towards it. so that is why i talked to peter king and he offered to let me
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testify and i offered it. i have gone to other members and talked about private and public way ons the issues of inclusion and standing oppose today bigotry. part of this is my personality. i tend to, you know, step into breach and offer whatever help i can. rather than say i will let things handle themselves. >> and you talked about your interaction with the colleagues, one of the colleagues in your delegation, mitchell bachman has accused you of having ties to the muslim braer -- brotherhood
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tex . you say when you see each other you are cordial. how does that work? >> she is pretty charming. we have serious disagreements on a whole range of things. and we couldn't be more different. we are day and night. but it isn't personal. it is just that, you know, i don't know, that is what it is. i think a lot of people who watch and here some of the fireworks that come out of congress and the political clashes and polarization might be under the impression there is personal animosity between members of congress. there may or may not be. i don't know have. but these are substance
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differences not personality differences. i don't have the problem of shaking a hand of a colleague i disagree with. or talking or getting along with them. i actually believe you should talk to people you have disagreements with and i am happy to do that. but the folks who watch congress from across the country should know it certainty personal animosity. it is differences of values and believes that separate us. >> you dispute the fact congress and the house are not working together. explain that. >> democracy is messy. it says all voices have a right
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to weigh in. and because of that, sometimes those points of views clash and then we get to an impass position. that is when we get stuck. but, what would be the alternative right? i do think there are important reforms that need to be made. we need to get the money out of politics. we need redistricting repoliticized so the state reflects the will of the people beside who draws the line. people need access to voting boxes. i believe democracy is supposed to be raucous.
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the clash of ideas is the sound of freedom. right before the civil war, congress was dysfunctional, too, then, right? we have extreme inequality. it is hard to move an agenda. 90% of people want gun backgrund checks, unexemployment -- unemployment benefits extended but congress won't pass this. i don't mean to say it isn't having problems of operation that suggest dysfunction, but i mean i am optimistic about moving forward. if we keep saying engaged and reach out to average americans
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we will work ourselves out of this. >> you have travelled as a member of congress and you might about that in the book. these trips are used as fact-finding missions. and you write about doing some of nthat. but you have been seen as an ambassador that these folks can relate to. how does that feel when you are looking for information but coming are coming to you asking you how can america help is. >> that is pressure, right? but i think that it is an honor to try to make friends for your country. so i have embraced that role. i think a lot of people living outside the united states hear about it, see it on television, and read about it. but how much do they know about
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it? in some cases they know a lot or don't know much and misperceive how the country works. if you are from a country where one person makes all of the decisions, it maybe strange to hear that. i find myself focus on what people do. i was in egypt before the military takeover and i was talking to people and they asked me why did you support morsey and i said we will support who put up. we cannot pick your head of state. the united states supports
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whoever your put up. the united states is not all powerful. you as the citizen of another country have agency in terms of the direction of your own country. and so, i found myself playing that role. i think is important for every member of congress and make and play. when i would called upon to make it, i play it. >> when you talked about the competition of your district, do you find yourself playing that same role with your voters? >> we have a lot of new americans from all over the global in your district. you take someone from syria, say or for that matter, say zimbabwe there there are having difficults with democratic choice thof population --
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difficult choices -- and you have to explain how you can criticize your government and thiskeep capital is yours. we don't serve a king. so i am writing about how to make the democratic system work for you. i think it is an awesome role. i actual enjoy it. that leads to the title: "my country, 'tis of thee: my faith, my family, our future." you connect this to two things many people in america can leilate to. -- relate to -- talk to us about that. >> i remember standing there in january 2009 where obama was
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signing the oath of office to be the 44th president. and franklin sang my county tis thee. i was swept up in that moment and thinking about everything this country went through to arrive that this mome. i looked on the mall and they used to sell slaves on the mall. and i looked at the capital and labor built the capital. and i thought about the speech in 1963 when the famous i have a dream speech invoked the same words to that song. and how at that time it wasn't even forseeable we could be at moment where someone like obama would be president. and i remember standing in the
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cold moment thinking about a song i heard many years before. there is an alternative version written in the 1930s. when in they wrote a song with the same music, but criticizing the slave system. and i thought, you know, look that is america, right? it is attention -- tension -- it is tension between martin luther king and bill conner. it is tension between people trying to expand democracy and people who want to treat the benefits of democracy to only their group. and you know, the country will go in the direction in which the most active people are pulling it, right? and we dare not let the people who are operating on the bases
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of fear, scarcity, or me and mine and us. i dare not stop pulling or those pill will kerry the day. we have to always be pulling my county tis of thee in the direction of sweet land of liberty for all. ...
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congress to pass a law establishing a state religion nor abridging the free exercise
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thereof. i believe in that. that is an awesome thing for my country is of the. it is in the book. as cause me to do a lot of things serging and reflection about our nation. >> do you see any parallels with the -- with your experience? did you hearken back to your swearing-in when you were there at the inauguration? >> i sure did. i thought about the president. but the most interesting thing about president obama is that people accused him of being a muslim. in fact, i am a muslim. he is a person of a muslim name or a name that could be associated with the muslim crusade in particular, but he is a christian. i am a muslim, and i have an english name. and so i do sense a certain parallel with the president. i, you know, and i have often
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admired how he manages some of the fire that he has been under because he is under more than i am. i think. and so he has been -- he has exercised a lot of grace under fire as well, but, i mean, you know, obama did not elect himself, right? americans elected him. and he is signalling a new dawn. and, of course, we are not opposed racial. in fact, we have severe disparities in income, education , health, and all that, but we have defeated slavery and jim crow. president obama in many ways allows us to take on the last frontier of defeating racism itself. now, some people say that cannot happen. but they said that about slavery and they said that about jim-crow. what if we could lead true, universal brotherhood and sisterhood, a loving community
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is hardly the king talked about. i think it is possible, and i think that if we can elect obama then we can tear down these inequalities and disparities. i am optimistic about it. as as of -- >> host: the subtitle of the book is my family, my faith to our future. in the latter third of the book you talk about some of those disparities that you just mentioned and sort of made that your mission here on capitol hill. talk little bit more about some of these issues that you addressed in the book that you are looking to tackle as a legislator. >> guest: i think the biggest problem is income inequality. now, income inequality is just to components, right? it is stagnant wages, rising that lows, limited economic fortunes for working people, and it has fabulous economic rewards for the people at the top of the economy.
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>> host: the stagnating situation for working people, of course people of color are disproportionately concentrated in that group, right? , but they aren't the only ones down there, right? so the foreclosure -- foreclosure crisis happened after the americans were hit harder. there were not the only one set. you know, african-americans were hit harder by health disparities. i have a lot of white people coming to my district telling me that we need health care reform because they got, you know, drop from their policy after they get sick or they went bankrupt after getting sick. so i guess what i am saying is that i believe that our president is right about income inequality being the defining issue of our time, and i think that, you know, we have got to organize among people, ordinary
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means, regular folks all over the country and reclaim the political power to require that the wealth of this country be shared more equitably. conservatives say that if you, you know, you have got to cut taxes and not regulate, you know, which the average people and big business because they will take the extra money that you give them by not taxing not regulating them and use that extra money to invest in a plan and equipment to hire the rest of us. we now know that trickle-down economics is a failed economic philosophy. simply does not work. there is our historic precedent for working, and the proof of how bad it works is all around us. so i think that one of the main things i want to do on his work for prosperity for working families. that means -- that means reduced student debt. that means make college
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affordable enough to work your way through school. that is something of what to do. that means consumer protection for people who pay high fees and stuff because they are not banks and that means making sure that the minimum wage is increased and that we have incentives to improve the level wage. that means also thinking and rewarding companies like punch pizza that is in minneapolis, a pizza restaurant that actually raise their minimum wage to $10.10 without any government intrusion. it is bad enough, if britain says i want to keep my employees on the job, build loyalty, i don't want to have to retrain people all the time, so therefore i'm going to pay better as opposed to this low wage model. we are still dealing -- i want to make sure that we have trade deals that actually help and strengthen the american working class and the middle-class, not just offshore jobs. so, you know, we have seen ever
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since we passed nafta we have seen other increasing trade deficits with the united states. if you dips in recent years, but we are running trade deficits. some might have reduced and some might have gone up, but it is still going up. we ought to trade surplus. and so these are just -- i think that we don't have a stagnating economy for working people by accident. we have it because of the set of decisions around taxation, trade, collective bargaining, education and training that had put the economy on the filing that it is on. and we need to make this an economy that works for everybody, including small business, middle-class people, professionals, and certainly workers. >> tackling many of these issues has elevated your national profile. you have become a champion of the left.
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is this of platform type higher aspirations or higher office? >> no. i am not said -- i'm not said i will never run for higher office. i'm just saying it is not a platform for an aspiration. and have any ambition or aspiration for of desire than the one i hold it is that not release the another one higher than i hold. represent the people of the district. add on know if there's a better job and the world than the one i hold right now, and i mean that seriously. but i am ambitious. ambitious for a policy agenda. i am not ambitious for personal elevation. i am ambitious effort our country being a place where they're is a reliable path to economic security for every one and for the few people who are too old, too sick more to young to work. there is safety net that allows
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them him to fall down. their destitute. that is my ambition. i think about legislative achievements or my work as a member of congress. i don't think , proud of any satellite hold, but i am proud if back every the progressive caucus and many other members of our caucus demand didn't over a year ago that the president issue an executive order raising the pay of federal workers who work for federal contractors. workers who work for federal contractors are making really, really low pay. and we've got 50 members of the house, 15 members of the senate to send a letter to the president cannot through executive order asking the president about it personally committed finletter's about it personally amassed this stuff about it. other members of the caucus did. other members of the caucus when
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all over this country marching with striking low-wage workers of walmart, fast-food restaurants. guess what, at the last of the union the president announced the issuance of this executive order. so, to me that is what i'm proud of. i am proud to be a part of stuff like that. i don't -- i'm not really ambitious for titles. ambitious for achievements some that are going to put him the average working person whether there from mexico or somalia or whether ten generations america that they can look forward to retirement, you know, with error looking forward to their child getting a good education, looking forward to have a good, decent home to live in, looking forward to having a decent water to drink and can look forward to having a job that pays them fair. that is what my ambition is. >> and one of the things, personal growth.
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it is also as you talk about, your father hammering home to 15 are 16 year-old, did you ever see yourself at the point you are now? did you ever dream about that? >> no. you know, when i was that age is somebody asked me what to you want to be when you grow up, i honestly would have told them, i don't know. right? i knew one thing. i knew that i -- i knew that i loved to read. i knew then i love to express myself, you know. i knew that i -- i knew that i hated to see people treated unfairly, taken advantage of, that's what i knew. and so it really wasn't until i got on campus that i thought to
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myself, i want to be an economist. major in economics because i thought if you want to understand the way the world works, you've got to follow the money. my dad would say that all the time. i started measuring in economics. and i found that, well, economics is part of it, but it is also politics. so then i did a little ground work in economics. then i went to law school. the university of minnesota which brought me to minnesota. and that's kind of my path. but the 15th i had no idea. in fact, when i got to my 20's i thought the last place i would be would be in electoral politics because i did not think electoral politics really had much to offer in terms of real change. and i was proved wrong when i meant paul was saw who, in my mind, combined the pragmatism of the seasoned politician and the heart and idealism of a
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community organizer. he pull these two things together, and it was sort of a model for what i wanted to june. i used to spend a lot of time focusing, but you also spend a lot of time talking about your family, your children especially and their experiences. and have different america is for them. stockton has a bit about that. >> well, it really is. and i was growing up america was much more racially and who is he obsess camino. so, for example, when i was a kid if somebody date outside of the african-american community that would be a thing for kids of my generation is not a thing, at least not where i live. you know, kids are far more accepting of each other. kids are far more embracing of alternative culture and.
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they are much more ready to accept people for who they are in today offer themselves to be. my kids certainly in body that, you know, and i think it is a wonderful development. in the good thing about my kids is that there still very proud of being african-american. they embrace it, loved to read about it, talk about it, hear about it this month but at the same time, you know, that makes them -- you know, they're interested in their own heritage and make them interested in other people's heritage as opposed to their interests and their own heritage makes them not want to learn a mother bills heritage. it is really the opposite. >> and would you say that you adapted your father or your mother's parenting style? >> not my father's because we don't, you know, we did not spank our kids. my dad believe in that. i think i kind of melded the two. my mother, you know, the -- my
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mother was a person who's stuck up for her kids to my may church -- i mean, she was an active mob mother was a working mom, too. mom on today is a social worker in detroit, michigan, still works, and she does juvenile offenders. she sees them as her kids, but she is a person who would make you feel good just being around here. so the two of them, you know, it's like a mixture of, you know, like, you know, tough love and just affection and love. then melded the tube. i tried to go in the middle of the tube. i tried to, you know, be concerned about my kids. my kids of the best thing empty of i've never done. they are my treasure. so, you know, now they're


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