Leader Spotlight: Ibrahim Hashi
Veterans for American Ideals is recognizing veteran leaders who are continuing their service by building unity and standing up for American values. Through a series of interviews, we’re asking VFAI leaders to share more about how their service shaped them and what responsibility they feel veterans have to speak up on issues that relate to our national ideals.
Today’s interview is with Ibrahim Hashi, a U.S. Marine veteran, a recent graduate of American University, and the son of immigrants from Somalia.
Tell me about your military service. When and where did you serve? Why did you join the military?
I was an infantryman in the Marine Corps, on active duty from 2006-2011. I deployed three times—first to Iraq in 2007, then again to Iraq in 2009, and to Afghanistan in 2010-2011.
I didn’t enlist for monetary or financial reasons. I know that a lot of people join for the college benefits. The reason why I enlisted was that I wanted to actually give back to this country.
My parents were first-generation Americans. The United States was so good to them when they arrived here, and has provided so many opportunities to me and my family. I felt I couldn’t not give back after having received so much, so I was compelled to serve in some way. I decided to enlist in the Marines.
How did your service shape the person you are today?
It made me more caring because I went overseas and saw the way people live in certain countries, especially people living under the hardships of war and violence. Seeing that firsthand and up-close made me much more empathetic to the plights of immigrants and refugees and others fleeing violence. So I think having seen that firsthand, I’m more inclined to try to help people in need, especially people from war-torn countries.
As a veteran, what sort of responsibility do you feel to speak up on issues that relate to American ideals?
Numerically, there are not that many veterans. Most Americans don’t serve in the military. I see having served and being a veteran as a privilege. And with privilege comes responsibility. It is my responsibility to speak up and defend American values whenever they come under threat.
Opening our arms to immigrants and to refugees is one of those fundamental American values. It’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. So I want to use the privilege I have to speak up on issues like that, that are about our American values.
Tell me about one issue related to those ideals that is of particular importance or concern to you right now. What are you doing about it?
Except for my immediate family, literally every other one of my family members in the United States and Europe was a refugee at one point. They all fled Somalia and the violence of the civil war there.
So I know what it’s like. I’ve seen the struggles my family faced coming to a new country. It’s difficult—even seemingly little things like coming from a hot country, like Somalia, to a cold city, like Minneapolis. Integrating into U.S. culture is hard. For immigrants to now also be facing xenophobia and bigotry just adds even more problems to the big plate of problems they were already facing.
So that’s something I care about. I’m trying to speak out.
You don’t need a big platform to make a big, immediate change. Just talk to your friends, educate them on what refugees face. That’s a big thing too. That’s what I started off doing—educating friends. I also work with VFAI, volunteering my free time and trying to spread the message that our country is an open and welcoming country to those in need.
What would you say to other veterans about the role that they can play in these issues as citizens?
I would tell my fellow veterans—and I do tell them this all the time—that we have a unique voice and place in American society. Veterans are one demographic for which it doesn’t matter what your background is, where you’re from, who you are—you automatically have people’s respect because you’re a veteran. That gives you a powerful voice, and staying silent means that you’re squandering that voice.
There is nothing more noble than being a voice for the voiceless, so you really should speak out. It’s a good thing that helps out people in need.