Pakistani MMA Pioneer: Donald Trump Has Given People 'the Green Light to Be Bigoted'
By Marc Raimondi
Bashir Ahmad is a graduate of an American university and served in the United States military. He is also a practicing Muslim who has lived part of the last six years in Pakistan helping to build the mixed martial arts scene in the country.
Ahmad has been back home in Virginia, just miles from Washington, DC, since July preparing for the birth of his first child. The words of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump have been very much on his radar.
Trump said in early December, in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings, that he would be in favor of not allowing any Muslims into the United States until there was a viable vetting process to determine who was and who was not a terrorist. Trump has also said, even before the attack, that he'd be interested in requiring Muslim-Americans to register with a government database.
Ahmad is not so much concerned with what Trump has to say. He doesn't believe the neophyte politician will be elected President. Ahmad is more concerned with how Trump's words have affected others and what that means for him in the country he has lived since he was 2 years old.
"What Trump says really doesn't bother me much, because I don't take the guy seriously," Ahmad told MMA Fighting. "What does bother me is when you have supporters. He's bringing out an ugly side of a lot of people. Some people who felt that this kind of stuff was hurtful or inappropriate are thinking it's OK now. They've kind of been given a green light to be bigoted."
Ahmad, 33, currently competes for ONE Championship in Asia, but his contributions to the sport of MMA exceed that. In 2009, Ahmad moved from Virginia to Pakistan and started a gym called Synergy in Lahore. It was a tiny space that also doubled as his apartment. He brought in coaches from all different disciplines and explained to them MMA.
Synergy was the first MMA gym of its kind in the area. Ahmad took a jiu-jitsu class in college and fell in love with it. After graduating George Mason University in 2008, he traveled to Asia to train in different martial arts. It dawned on him then that he wanted to bring MMA to Pakistan, the country where he was born and where his parents lived for a good portion of their lives.
Since 2009, MMA has grown immensely in Pakistan. There are multiple affiliates of Synergy now. One fighter, Waqar Omar, has made it to ONE (along with Ahmad) and others are having success on the regional scene. Ahmad also runs PakMMA, which sanctions and promotes MMA events in Pakistan. It is the first organization of its kind.
For all he has done for Pakistan, though, Ahmad has realized that he is culturally more American. He did all his schooling in the United States and was stationed overseas for the United States Army in his 20s. If Trump does get elected, Ahmad doesn't plan on living with his family in Pakistan full-time despite Trump's views on Muslims.
"I think it's become even more important to have people from Muslim backgrounds in the United States," Ahmad said. "If people actually do go back to their home countries, I think they're kind of abandoning what America really means. And they're kind of kowtowing to bully tactics."
In Pakistan, Trump has become a topic of conversation, Ahmad said. He said that people there have compared him to some Pakistani leaders -- the ones who single out ethnicities to further their public careers. Ahmad said there was even a hashtag about that on Twitter in the country.
"You're just like Trump, but you're here in Pakistan," Ahmad said of some leaders. "It's the same mentality, just a different country. ... A lot of times politicians and a lot of other political figures or religious figures will kind of use the latent sentiments of the mob [to get ahead]."
Ahmad has lived half the time in Pakistan over the last six years with most people knowing he was raised in America. He hasn't faced any prejudice because of that. And Ahmad said the same goes for how he, as a Muslim, is received in Northern Virginia. He said he hasn't experienced one drip of racism.
"People pretty much across the board don't like American foreign policy," Ahmad said. "That's very different from saying they don't like Americans. I'm very comfortable telling people over there I was raised in the United States and I feel comfortable telling literally anybody that."
Ahmad is not a liberal, either. He considers himself an independent, but leans toward being libertarian. Ahmad said he has voted for Ron Paul in the past and would be inclined to vote for Republican candidate Rand Paul if he were to earn the nomination. Trump is someone he would almost consider supporting -- it not for the messages contained in his campaign.
"At first, I just thought this guy was a comedy routine," Ahmad said. "But wow. He's very legit. I think he's done a very good job of harnessing the power of the American mob. That's the way I've seen what he's done. He's catering to the lowest common denominator in people. He's a smart guy. I don't know who he has around him or what their plan is, but it almost seems like he's got somebody from the Kardashians' social media team telling him to go out there and do anything -- make a sex tape, do something. Say something crazy."
Ahmad and his wife are right now adjusting to the birth of their son. He'll fight Jimmy Yabo at ONE: Tribe of Warriors on Friday in Jakarta. Ahmad wants his son to read and write the Pakistani language of Urdu, but doesn't have any specific plans to raise him in Pakistan.
There's a very good chance his son will grow up, like he did, in the United States. And now, more than ever, Ahmad finds himself asking questions about that future.
"What percentage of America really feels unwelcoming towards me and people like me?" Ahmad said. "I do feel hurt when I think that there's possibly -- and we don't really know -- possibly a significant majority who feel like they've been given the green light to let a very ugly side of them come out."