NOVI — Dr. Syed Taj, Democratic candidate for the 11th Congressional District has had the opportunity to provide a comfortable life for his family, and send his son to college, but knows others haven’t been as fortunate, and that’s why he’s running for congress. “I’m not running to make a career out of it, or build something out of it for financial purposes, because I’ve been very blessed in my life, I just want to give back to the country that has given me so much,” he said, adding that he wants to put Americans back to work.
Dr. Taj has worked as a medical doctor for over 40 years. He had a short stint as the chief of medicine at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, and has spent decades serving patients at his practice there.
He spoke to The Arab American News at his campaign office here, where he opened up about his concerns for American civil liberties which he says are in “jeopardy,” and anti-Muslim sentiment. “Once civil liberties are taken away the pursuit of happiness starts disappearing,” he said. Dr. Taj said some provisions in the Patriot Act are very un-American, and he doesn’t support the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which has been called one of the biggest attacks on civil liberties. Both Michigan Democratic Congressmen Hansen Clarke and Gary Peters also told The Arab American News they voted against the measure.
Under the NDAA, U.S. citizens charged with having terrorist ties can be indefinitely detained without the right to a trial. It was roundly attacked by civil rights groups after Obama signed the measure into law New Year's Eve 2011. Dr. Taj also said he wants to stop racial profiling.
In recent years civil rights groups have received countless claims from people who say they have been victims of racial profiling by officers who work for agencies that are a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Republicans have also introduced legislation people say undermines some of the nation’s core democratic values and promotes racial profiling such as the anti-Sharia bills sweeping the nation and pieces of legislation similar to Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which Dr. Taj said he was against.
The suspicion cast on Muslims after 9/11 triggered Dr. Taj to run as a candidate for the Canton Township Board of Trustees in 2008. At the time Dr. Taj ran for public office in Canton the city was becoming more culturally diverse, and the suspicion surrounding Muslim Americans was too difficult for him to ignore. He wanted to prove that Muslims could be trusted. “I thought, these people don’t have a face to represent them, so I can,” he said.
Dr. Taj, a practicing Muslim says he’s not worried about the misconceptions centering around his faith. “I really don’t have a problem with someone telling me I’m a Muslim or a terrorist, because I know what I am, and what I am doing,” he said.
“I believe as a human being I should be honest, I should be truthful, I shouldn’t be lying to people, I shouldn’t be doing things to purposely hurt people, and I think these are the fundamental pillars of my religion.”
The 11th District has primarily been represented by Republican congressmen and its residents are in large number republicans. If Dr. Taj is successful in his bid during the general election Nov. 6, it would be significant, considering he’s a Democrat Representing a republican district. Major cities in the 11th Congressional District include Canton Township, Garden City, Livonia, Milford, Novi, Northville, Plymouth, Redford Township, South Lyon, Westland, White Lake Township and Wayne.
The 11th District was previously represented by former Republican U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter, who was forced to resign earlier this year after allegations of petition fraud surfaced over his re-election campaign. Kerry Bentivolio won the special election held to replace McCotter, and will face Dr. Taj in the general election.
Dr. Taj isn’t worried about being well received in a Republican district, because he’s already managed to gain widespread support in Canton, a highly conservative area.
When first launching his election campaign in Canton Dr. Taj was told he didn’t stand a chance winning as a Democrat, or ethnic minority. “I said ‘no, if people want to elect me they will, and they did,”’ he said. “If you are a good person people will be attracted to you.”
Dr. Taj’s immigrant background and heavy Indian accent would set him a part from most congressmen, and has become the subject of much interest among people and the media. Dr. Taj was born and raised in India, and left to pursue post-graduate training in health and medicine in Great Britain. His wife Sophia is an accomplished artist, author and poet. Dr. Taj came to the United States in 1982 in search of creating a better life for his family. His son Asad plans on becoming a medical physician, and currently attends the University of Michigan, and is preparing for medical school this year. They live in the home they built in Canton.
Arab American physicians have donated to Dr. Taj’s election campaign. He says he’s also received moral support from Muslim religious leaders such as Imam Mohammad Mardini of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn, and Imam Sayed Hassan Al Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America, and Dawud Walid of the Council on American Islamic Relations.
Dr. Taj has also been met with enthusiasm from the Indian American community.
“They see their selves in me…I feel like if I get through this, they will have a chance in this country,” he said. Dr. Taj wants to breakdown the stereotypes surrounding Muslims. “Why should I not be trusted because I’m a Muslim…I know what I am, and what I’m doing,” he said.
Dr. Taj praised Gov. Rick Snyder for supporting immigrants, and vetoing a recent measure introduced by Secretary of State Ruth Johnson that would require voting ballots to feature a citizen checkbox. “This country is made of immigrants. We are all a piece of the mosaic,” he said.
While Dr. Taj stands behind the Affordable Care Act he says some of the legislation’s provisions could be improved. One of Dr. Taj’s strongest attributes is his understanding of the healthcare system, especially as more provisions of the Act come into affect.
“Every human being has the right to affordable healthcare, that’s my belief,” he said. Dr. Taj has expressed concern that laws concerning doctors are being passed and introduced by people who’re not physicians.
“As a physician I have always taken care of people, and that’s what I plan on doing when I become a congressman,” he said.
General election voter registration deadline is Oct. 9
Tuesday, Oct. 9 is the deadline for registering to vote in the Nov. 6 general election. To register to vote you must be a U.S. citizen; 18 years old; a resident of Michigan and the city or township you are applying to vote in. Residents can register to vote by mail; at their county, city, or township clerk's office or at a Secretary of State branch office. Election day volunteers have also been spotted outside buildings around metro-Detroit getting people to fill out simple paperwork to get them registered easily.
During the general election Americans will have the opportunity to vote and elect congressmen, state representatives, local school administrators, and vote on important ballot proposals and the next president of the United States. Presidential elections take place every four years. A mail in voter registration form is available on the Secretary of State's website along with additional information at www.michigan.gov/sos.