She is a Muslim, covers her head and is a firefighter in NYC

The level of optimism must stay high for Americans to start embracing diversity and different cultures with open arms.

Ahson Saeed Hasan April 20, 2015
I know I keep harping on about the ‘greatness’ and ‘glory’ of the Western culture and understand that my audience gets bored to death reading story after story about how awesomely ‘wonderful life’ is in the West. However, I must reiterate that I happen to be a diehard sceptic and I don’t trust easily. After all the episodes and events that I’ve experienced in my life, I don’t see much reason to blindly put faith in objects, people, systems or nations.

Being who I have become by virtue of the battering of years gone by, I have developed a keen sense of appreciation for the extraordinary, the beauty, the passion and the energy that defines us humans and the occasional pleasantness that I come across while reading or listening to the news, or at times an odd chance of cheerfulness that characterises our existence.

This is a monumental period of US history. This is the time America is busy heralding a new era, breaking ice with archenemy Cuba, rebuilding bridges with Iran, and, perhaps, about to elect its first woman president. Things, in some respects, are really looking up and our current president is finally able to man up and take a stand on matters that should have been dealt with sometime ago.

Yes, I’m aware that it’s not all that rosy and that the country’s image abroad has suffered tremendously beyond 9/11. But trust me, it hasn’t been easy for this country to dust off and keep going on without taking drastic measures to safeguard its integrity and secure itself from any future attack on its people and territory. Obviously, all such measures have come with a price and concerns have often been voiced about stereotyping of Muslims or people from the Middle East being branded as terrorists or those with suspect intentions or simply not loyal to the country.

Justice, liberty and freedom for all and more importantly, a chance for everyone to survive and thrive in a respectable manner are the paramount concerns of those running the affairs of this nation. Jobs, for the most part, are based on merit and although sifarish (request or reference) does work wonders here as well, strict regulations are in place for those hiring to ensure that the high and lofty corporate as well as governmental standards are maintained and not jeopardised.

The US has an extremely competitive culture when it comes to seeking jobs or offering ones services in the public sector, especially those that directly impact human lives. A minor screw up or a crack in the system can lead to historically precarious repercussions for those involved. No one is spared and public scrutiny and media attention often emotionally kill the nefarious elements even before they reach the court of law to be tried and punished.

You must be wondering what the purpose is of this sudden spurt of nationalism and positivity.

Well, recently, I came across a news story involving an 18-year-old girl, named Ahlam Ahmed, who wanted to become a fire-fighter, all five feet and 105 pounds of her, in New York. She is a girl of a strong resolve and even a stronger will to succeed and fight against the odds despite her fragile physical structure. A case of tiny but mighty, Ahmed, who originally hails from the troubled country of Yemen, wears a headscarf and is a religious practitioner of Islamic faith.

This story rendered me quite speechless, rather flabbergasted. I had to confirm and reconfirm from my sources if it was all true. How in the world can such a petite little woman even think of becoming a fire-fighter, a job that is generally the domain of super buffed-up hulks who can bulldoze any hurdles that come in their way?

I thought hard about the situation, asked myself questions and finally got a simple answer – under the laws of employment in the US, no individual can be disqualified based on their race, background or physical appearance, which includes, amongst others, the height and weight of the applicant for a job. All that matters is a person’s willingness to work and prove themselves capable of meeting the minimum requirements and qualifications.

Muslims in public service is neither a new phenomenon nor something unknown to American life. Muslims immensely contribute to the US economy and well-being. There is a quota system for minorities and oppressed classes of society – the phenomenon of Equal Opportunity Employment (EOE) is strictly enforced – which does not jeopardise their chances to compete in the same market space and get jobs in government services. There have been rumours that hiring managers have sporadically hesitated in hiring folks with a stereotypical background but that does not hold true for a majority of jobs available out there. In any event, before hiring, the governments, federal and local, as well as corporations carry out thorough background checks of the applicants.

In the larger scheme of matters, whereas laws help and provide us with an infrastructure, their implementation is what is more important. If the execution of laws is not effective and enforcement mechanisms are weak, moral and ethical corruption sets in. This is an everyday struggle that the American culture is faced with and that is why folks like Ahmed are drafted into the mainstream public life – given an opportunity to make a difference not only in their own lives but people’s lives as well.

Time, people and societies change; life is an ever-developing evolutionary process and there are no constants in dynamic cultures. Change is name of the game. Ahlam Ahmed is a perfect example of the eternal thrust to make America better and brighter for all. Of course, nothing is or will ever be perfect but Ahmed’s story depicts a philosophy of one success at a time. It’ll take time for things to get better and many more Ahmed-like stories to make a long-lasting impact.

Needless to say, the level of optimism must stay high for America and Americans to start accepting diversity and embracing different cultures with open arms.
Ahson Saeed Hasan The writer is a proud American and a peacenik who has travelled to over 80 countries and lived in four continents. He tweets @tweetingacho (
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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