By Adam DuBard
On October 20th, the SAIS Global Security and Conflict Management and the South Asia club co-hosted M. Osman Siddique, a Bangladeshi immigrant who rose to become the first Muslim-American ambassador when President Bill Clinton appointed him to serve as the United States Ambassador to Fiji. Ambassador Siddique joined SAIS over Zoom and spent his time talking about his recent book, his time working in the State Department, and offering advice to SAIS students interested in entering public service.
Ambassador Siddique struck a notably optimistic tune, contrasting starkly with the political mood in DC, and America as a whole, over the last decade. “America’s past may be riddled with mistakes, but our future is bright,” he said when discussing the reasoning behind authoring his first book. Although he was an admittedly novice author, he said that the past few years of American immigration policies had “forced his hand,” as he wished to share his story of an immigrant who came to America and achieved his dreams. “Every immigrant has a powerful story,” Ambassador Siddique remarked, as he continued to say that he hoped his book could be helpful to future generations of immigrants as they adjust to life in America.
Living in DC led to Ambassador Siddique’s political awakening. “It’s toxic. Once you breathe the air, you’re hooked,” he colorfully described the effects that DC politics had on him. The late Senator Ted Kennedy was an early mentor to him as well, for which the Ambassador is “eternally grateful.” Interestingly enough, Ambassador Siddique revealed that after acquiring his American citizenship in 1985, his first vote ever was cast for President George H.W. Bush in 1988. After speaking warmly of his friendship with the Bush family, Ambassador Siddique decried the divisiveness apparent in politics today, saying, “You can have friends across the aisle.”
However, it was Ambassador Siddique’s friendship with Bill Clinton that led to his assignment in Fiji. After working on President Clinton’s campaign, he was appointed as the United States Ambassador to Fiji in 1999, making history. Remarkably enough, Ambassador Siddique didn’t even realize he was the first Muslim-American ambassador at the time of his appointment. However, he also spoke of how his religion caused complications in the political climate after the still-fresh Al-Qaeda attacks in Kenya and Tanzania. He recalled waiting for 11 months just to receive his security clearance. Ambassador Siddique also faced resistance from the Fiji government, who were less than receptive to a Muslim ambassador due to rising domestic tensions. However, as the Ambassador recalled, President Clinton fiercely fought for his appointment, and in the end, his ambassadorship would not be denied.
Towards the end of his presentation, Ambassador Siddique answered some questions and took some time to offer some friendly advice to any SAISers interested in entering public service. Ultimately, he highlighted how crucial learning on the job is, stating that one can learn far more from real-life experience than graduate school. Finally, he offered his opinion on the validity of the American Dream for future immigrants. “This country was built on the blood, sweat, and tears of immigrants,” he argued, going on to say that “If you work hard, play the rules, you can reach your goals.”