By MALIK MERCHANT
Publisher/Editor Simerg, Barakah and Simergphotos
In the summer of 2011, I finally fulfilled a pledge I had made to my 19-year old daughter, an animal and nature lover, who was aspiring to become a veterinarian; her dream finally fulfilled in 2019.
The promise I had made to her when she was in her early teens was that I would take her to see two of my favourite places in the world, that I had either lived in or visited as a tourist. In my mind, they were not going to be Lourenço Marques, (now Maputo) in Mozambique, Dar es Salaam, Serengeti, Kilimanjaro and Ngorongoro, all in Tanzania, nor to the majestic mountains and national parks in Canada and the USA such as the Blue Ridge Mountains, Glacier National Park, the Rockies in Alberta and Colorado and the Grand Canyon. She wondered what those two places might be, and my reply to her was, “I will take you to Salt Lake City and Yellowstone National Park”. (Since then, as it will be obvious to my regular readers, I have added to my favourite list His Highness the Aga Khan’s magnificent projects in Toronto — namely the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre and the Aga Khan Park, all three located at one site).
I will not say much about Yellowstone, except that I found it to be the most thrilling of all the parks in North America I have visited. It is a 5-in-1 park with its incredible geysers, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, rivers and lakes, forests as well as superb and varied wildlife, including grizzly bears and wolves. It is truly rich and diverse! I had stopped there some 22 years ago during my 4,500 km road trip from Ottawa to Vancouver via the USA, and vowed to one day return with my daughter and share with her the beauty I experienced.
But what about Salt Lake City, and why?
In 1979, while in London, I was recruited by a New York software firm to work as a trainee computer programmer in the USA under the H3 visa program. Upon my arrival at the company’s headquarters in the Big Apple, I began to familiarize myself with the IBM JCL (Job Control Language), a suite of steps that are necessary to execute computer and related utility programs. My experience in the UK had primarily been on ICL (International Computers Limited) computers.
Then after about a week, as I was taking some in-house JCL tests I was summoned into the director’s office late in the afternoon. He told me that one of company’s two clients in Salt Lake City had dismissed two consultants due to poor representation and performance, and the company was in danger of losing the project altogether. He handed me $300.00 in cash, an airline ticket to fly to Salt Lake City the following day, and firmly asked me to do well and salvage the highly profitable project for the company!
That evening I went to the Jamatkhana in New York only to learn from the Mukhisaheb that there were no Ismailis that he knew lived in Salt Lake City. I nervously travelled to Salt Lake City and was greeted at the airport by the consulting company’s project team lead, an Irish Catholic. He calmed my fears down at the hotel, where he dropped me off.
Within 24 hours I was on the client’s site. I was assigned to an in-house systems analyst, a devout Jehovah’s Witness, who presented me with specifications to develop an intricate file manipulation program that in his view “was the most complex program on their new payroll-personnel system”.
I was a Muslim of South Asian descent, who had grown up in Africa and then completed my college computer degree in the UK. My heart was that of an African, and I loved Africans. In Sandy in the outskirts of Salt Lake City, and then closer to work in Salt Lake City, I shared a home and apartments with Catholics and Protestants. On the project, I worked with members of numerous Christian denominations, Mormons in particular. As a non-smoker, I loved the smokeless office environment; in London I’d shared a small office on Tottenham Court Road with 2 chain smokers! 7-Up had become my favourite drink in the UK, and that became a daily treat for me in the cafeteria in Salt Lake. In the mid 1960’s Sprite had been introduced in Tanzania, close enough.
Project team members showed me immense courtesy and respect, and the country’s ethic of hard work and motto that anything is possible in the USA was true. I myself experienced it. Americans were fantastic people. Everyone who passed me at Salt Lake’s Main Street would give a friendly nod. Yes, America had that ability to inspire, instill confidence and make one courageous! I became self-confident and fearless. My new friends took me to Park City, Snowbird and Utah Jazz basketball games — the franchise was quite new. Adrian Dantley became my favourite player. Mormon missionaries, in pairs, came to places where I resided to indoctrinate me with the faith’s teachings, and I respectfully discussed faith matters with them, and in turn told them about Islam. We realized how common our ethics were. It was wonderful. I can honestly say that Salt Lake City made me a strong and confident person.
Moreover, Salt Lake City was surrounded by the beautiful Wasatch Mountains. It is where I also deeply started appreciating nature. The night sky, as I watched the stars and the full and new moons, inspired me. Surely, this would be a place I would like to one day return. My daughter made that wish happen.
When I returned with my daughter to Salt Lake City some 32 years later, I had already approached a Mormon missionary I knew to give us an extended tour of the Mormon Temple. He drove from Provo and spent hours with us. My daughter was impressed with the ethic of teachings of the Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) that he shared with us, including the faith’s tithing principle as well as the honorary time members devote to the dissemination of LDS Christian teachings around the world.
In 2008, 3 years before our trip to Utah and Yellowstone, Barack Obama became the 44th USA president, and extended his term in 2012. Hillary Clinton, in 2016, lost to Donald Trump. Utah in large numbers gave him the Presidential vote. That, I said to myself, was fine as it was Trump’s first time!
Then, throughout his 4-year tenure as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world as well as the period following the recent 2020 election, President Trump insulted decent hard working human beings, accused them of cheating and corruption, made condescending remarks to loyal and patriotic citizens of the USA including iconic leaders such as the late Republican Senator John McCain, told lies, divided children from their parents, insulted Muslims and immigrants, backed out of important world treaties, instigated seeds of division and hatred, stopped distinguishing good people from bad, undermined science and scientists, and couldn’t bother to care about American lives being taken due to Covid-19; these were only some of his character traits besides being selfish, insultingly prideful, and profoundly arrogant! He did not accept his defeat in the US elections, and never conceded to President-elect Joe Biden. On November 5th, upon hearing his speech after he knew he was losing the election, I had tears in my eyes and sought solace from my mum thousands of miles away in Vancouver. She too was deeply hurt.
And yet Utah’s citizens, who having heard and read the sickening Trump for a 4 full years, still went and voted for him in 2020, in even larger proportion than in 2016 (from 45.5% in 2016, increasing it to 58.4% in 2020 vs Biden at 37.7%).
Has a faith that I have been raised to respect by my own parents, who were both teachers and missionaries, lost its moorings or have the people of Utah stopped recognizing worthy and perennial Christian and LDS values? I note that the LDS church is in an expansion mode — as it has been for decades — around the world, and yet by voting for Trump the citizens of Utah forgot some cherished and revered perennial values that all GOOD global citizens must have, such as (1) the necessity of an abundant capacity for compromise; (2) more than a little sense of patience; (3) an appropriate degree of personal humility and honesty; (4) a respect for others; (5) having a good measure of forgiveness; as well as (6) genuinely welcoming human differences. Many of these values that I have noted were shortlisted by His Highness the Aga Khan when he was presented with the Adrienne Clarkson Global Citizenship Award in September 2016. They are also values common to all faiths and I would therefore expect religious minded people to be championing and upholding these values and behaving in accordance with them.
As a Muslim, I hold some conservative values too, but my expressions of them would be for support of the rule of law — through the members of the Congress, the House and the Senate, and not by blindly handing over my votes and voice to a divisive leader like President Trump. Let a better Republican candidate show-up, and vote for the person then.
Being a Muslim I have to state that the Holy Qur’an makes it very clear on the unity of mankind, beautifully articulated by His Highness the Aga Khan in an address he delivered to both the Houses of the Canadian Parliament on Thursday, February 27, 2014. He said:
“As you build your lives, for yourselves and others, you will come to rest upon certain principles. Central to my life has been a verse in the Holy Qur’an which addresses itself to the whole of humanity. It says: ‘Oh Mankind, fear your Lord, who created you of a single soul, and from it created its mate, and from the pair of them scattered abroad many men and women.’ I know of no more beautiful expression about the unity of our human race — born indeed from a single soul.”
Utahns voted — ignoring key ethical values which I thought were dear to the hearts of those I came to know — and cast their voices in support of a divisive president.
So now I carry with me only distant memories of the great city and people I came to know in 1979-1980, where my experiences were such that I promised to take my daughter to Salt Lake City in 2011, to meet people I thought I knew and trusted. I will not make that same promise to anyone else again!
As a footnote let me say there are three Mormons I deeply respect today: My Mormon missionary friend, Andrew Kosorok, who was our tour guide at the LDS temple in Salt Lake City, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah for seeking to speak out honestly and asking his fellow Republican colleagues to be truthful and, last but no means the least, former Republican Senator Jeff Flake from Arizona for standing up to the president of the USA, who has completely relinquished his duties to his country and the revered Constitution of the USA that has been an inspiration to Americans and the world for 233 years. On January 6, 2021 the outgoing president clearly incited his supporters to a destructive march on the citadel of democracy, the Capitol of the USA, to prevent President-elect Biden’s confirmation as president. How could the people of Utah have voted for such a person?
Date posted: January 12, 2021.
Last updated: January 19. 2021.
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