A Warm Send-off Party for Anila Ali

Anila Ali, a well-known educator, journalist and community activist, is among the Democratic delegates from Orange County who left for Charlotte to attend the Democratic Convention. She was

given a warm send-off party by Mayor Pro Tem Beth Krom of Irvine, friends and family

The delegates, according to the Orange County Register, “will be building on each others’ enthusiasm for incumbent Barack Obama, plotting ways to bolster the campaign and, well, reveling in the company of like-minded Democrats everywhere…”

Entitled “A look at the O.C. Democratic delegation to Charlotte” the OC Register article runs a brief biographical sketch of Anila, daughter of a distinguished and respected Pakistani journalist and diplomat, Qutubuddin Aziz.

Anila Ali voted for George W. Bush in 2000.

“My father told me the Republicans had been good to Pakistan,” said the Pakistan-born 45-year old, who became a U.S. citizen just before the 2000 election. “Many Pakistanis were saying that. It was only after the war in Iraq when I said, ‘This isn’t right,’ and I started reading up on Democrats.”

At first, it had been enough to simply be in the US and leave behind the problems that dogged her in the three previous countries she’d lived in.

In her homeland, sexism limited vocational opportunities for women, she said. During the eight years that her father was stationed at the Pakistani embassy in England, she found that country rife with racism.

“If skinheads came across you, your life could be at stake,” she said, offering a story about a close call of her own.

After returning to Pakistan, getting married and earning a master’s degree in English literature, Ali, her husband – an engineer – and young son moved to Saudi Arabia. There, she encountered both sexism and racism.

“A student asked me to tutor her,” recalled the Irvine resident. “When I got to her home, she said, ‘Oh, I thought you were white. Get out of my house.’ It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life.

“When I came to California for vacation, I felt welcomed. I felt like I blended in. And now, our American Dream has definitely come true.”

Ali was 30 when she moved here with her family. In the wake of 9-11 – and the resulting backlash against Muslims here – she began work with the Council of Pakistan American Affairs to help improve this country’s understanding of Islam. (She said she believes in a more cooperative, less antagonistic approach than she sometimes sees from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.) At the same time, she advocated for more tolerance in certain factions of the Muslim community.

“I have studied women’s rights in Islam to see if (the discrimination) is part of the religion – and it’s not,” she said. “It’s cultural, not religious.”

By the 2008 campaign, she had become friends with Maya Soetoro-Ng, half sister of Barack Obama, and become active in both the Irvine’s mayor race and Obama’s campaign.

She has cranked that activity up a notch this cycle, including her successful bid to be a delegate. Among key positions she says aligns her with Democrats are gay marriage and abortion rights. She believes Obama’s on the right track to improve the economy. And she’s eager to win other Muslims over to Obama. “Right now, I feel the Muslim vote is undecided.”


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