‘In retrospect I realize now that part of why I had this relative success at a young age is because I never stopped to question what I was doing and I wasn’t one of those people who had something specific set in mind when I got to Columbia,’ says Arab-American journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, who will take the stage at WDCD Live Amsterdam on 25 May.
Last month, Shihab-Eldin was interviewed by Legendiary, a show that talks to people whose personal narratives might be inspirational to others. Shihab-Eldin is a Senior Correspondent for AJ+, Al Jazeera’s online channel. His award-winning interactive talk show ‘The Stream’ was nominated for an Emmy Award for Most Innovative Program in 2012. In the same year he was featured on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list of ‘young disruptors, innovators & media entrepreneurs impatient to change the world’.
In the Legendairy interview Shihab-Eldin talks about his way towards success and his early years at Columbia University where he went to study journalism after he had started studying advertising in Boston.
‘My success surprised me, because I was never focused on being successful. What I was focused on was connecting with people, with myself, challenging myself. I had a real desire to learn,’ Shihab-Eldin says. ‘It was also right after 9/11. A couple years after 9/11 there was a climate of fear and suspicion around anything Muslim, anybody named Ahmed. Especially the Palestinian identity which made me a target of suspicion. I was very cognizant of this because in Boston I had been arrested and I had been targeted by the police just by virtue of my background and being named Ahmed.’
‘I don’t like talking about this because it might sound like I’m being a bit of a victim, but Arab Americans, right after 9/11, were victimized and were demonized and were vilified. I realized that my identity and a big part of who I am and how I was raised scared people and limited opportunities for me because of the political and social climate in the country.’
‘So when I arrived at Colombia I was hungry to prove, not just as an individual what I could accomplish and what I had to offer, but as a representative of my culture and my people who had been misrepresented.’
That passion of giving a voice to the voiceless and covering underreported global stories never left Shihab-Eldin since. Next to his work for AJ+ he appears as a commentator for CNN, NBC, BBC, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, and Yahoo among other platforms.
Top image: still from the AJ+ youtube video ‘Meet The Afghan Skate Girls Breaking Barriers’