Fareed Siddiq is a successful businessman and a father of two. He lives in Chagrin Falls, Ohioa 19th-century mill town built on a river and known for its scenic waterfalls and damsin a five-bedroom house he recently paid for, in cash, with his savings. Prominent in local civic and religious organizations, including the Red Cross and the chamber of commerce, Siddiq was invited to the InterContinental Hotel in downtown Cleveland earlier this month along with about 400 other business leaders to hear President George W. Bush speak.
He was moved to ask his president a question: “What,” he asked, hauling his 6-foot-5, 245-pound frame to the microphone, “are we doing with public diplomacy to change the hearts and minds of a billion and a half Muslims around the world?” What should he tell his friends and relatives in Pakistan about why he continues to live in the United States?
“Great question,” answered the president. “I’m confident your answer is, ‘I love living in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, the country where you can come and ask the president a question and a country where’ Are you a Muslim?”
“Yes,” answered Siddiq.
“Where you can worship your religion freely. It’s a great country where you can do that.”
It was a good answer, says Siddiq, but not enough for himnot when he, a financial adviser at a major investment bank, is afraid to use the bathroom on flights because he doesn’t want to frighten his fellow passengers as he walks down the aisle. He thinks anti-Muslim sentiment in the country is getting worse, not better. “I’m not so much worried about myself,” he adds. “It’s the young people I’m concerned with. Those are the people we need to trynot only as Muslims but as Americansto make them feel part of America. If you alienate the Muslim young people from America, that is dangerous.”