On July 29, former US Senator Carl Levin, the longest serving member of the US Senate in Michigan history, passed away. His death follows the death of another political giant in Michigan and the United States, Congressman John Dingell.
The death of Senator Carl Levin, like the death of Dingell, was a personal loss for me. Both helped shape my activism, especially after 9/11. Both supported the Arab and Muslim communities and defended our civil rights and freedoms. I loved and respected them both.
Carl Levin was a humble leader. He was accessible to his constituents. He had an open door policy. He has always strived to help, especially when it comes to civil rights and civil liberties. He was a passionate fighter for justice. Regardless, whether you agreed or disagreed with some of his positions, he maintained his composure, smiled, and was open to discussion and debate. He never let political differences turn into personal animosities.
A striking experience with Carl Levin was the creation of BRIDGES (Building Respect in Diverse Groups to Enhance Sensitivity). BRIDGES is a forum for dialogue between the Arab and Muslim American community and the federal government and its law enforcement agencies. I remember the hard times and the high level of stress and anxiety that gripped Arabs and Muslims in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. As community leaders and activists, we were shocked by the terrorist attack. We worried about the future of our community and sought advice on how to deal with the crisis. Senator Carl Levin, along with Representative Dingell, supported the community during this most difficult time.
I remember contacting Senator Levin and requesting a meeting to discuss the impact of the September 11 attack on the community, fear and uncertainty. All the weight of the federal government was going to be directed against Muslims and American Arabs and we wanted to know how to deal with it. Mr. Levin immediately acceded to our request to meet with him to share our concerns. One piece of advice he gave us: “You must immediately contact and meet with the new US District Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan. “
I called Mr. Collins and left a voicemail message. On the second day, Justice Collins called back. He said he was not officially the United States Attorney yet, but assured me that we will meet once he officially walks in. A few days later, Mr. Collins called me and invited me to a meeting at his office. We met and discussed the importance of constructive, effective and professional engagement between the community and federal agencies. Our common goals were to fight hate crimes and keep everyone safe. Mr. Collins indicated the importance he places on this commitment by telling me that we are meeting on his first day on the job. This would not have happened without Mr. Levin’s intervention.
There is a lot of cynicism in American politics. There are a lot of politicians who are selfish. Others who are show horses and media attention pigs, with a subset using foul language to become the center of attention. It wasn’t Car Levin.
Carl Levin was no ordinary politician. He was Jewish and pro-Israel. I am the Muslim child of Palestinian refugees. Even though we were on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East, we treated each other with respect and found issues that we could work on together.
Mr. Levin was a public servant who took public trust very seriously. He never hesitated to listen and give honest advice. Few of the chosen are like that. The nation urgently needs leaders like Carl Levin.
Carl Levin, we really miss you. Your legacy will continue to inspire for years and decades to come.
Imad Hamad is the executive director of the American Human Rights Council.