On Friday evening I spoke to Dr. Qanta Ahmed, author, journalist, sleep disorder specialist at Winthrop University Hospital, and Associate Professor of Medicine at the State University of New York (Stony Brook). Qanta has published countless op-eds in various media outlets about sleep disorders and medical conditions, and Islamism, politics, and terrorism. You can read some of her varied work on her Huffington Post column, at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/qanta-ahmed/. Dr. Ahmed recently testified to the Homeland Security Committee about terrorism and Islamism, and, in true OEP fashion, quickly published an op-ed about the experience.
Dr. Ahmed told me about the ways in which op-ed writing enriches her life. I’m inspired not only by her scientific writings but also by her political advocacy, her courage as a Muslim American to tackle serious national security issues on public platforms, and the ways in which her words and writing are bound to influence policies that affect millions.
In March 2011, I participated in a four-week course with The OpEd Project, after having written numerous articles and a book. Upon starting the course, I didn’t know how it would be useful to me, but the OEP classes very quickly gave me the skills to focus my writing and find new hooks to use for publishing articles. Through the course I learned how to approach editors and turn rejections into publications.
I learned from Katherine Lanpher that as long as I believe in an article and don’t worry about the response it’ll elicit, I will find a place to publish it. I’ve gained a very thick skin and much more confidence from The OpEd Project. I’ve been writing consistently about radical Islam and terrorism and am being considered to speak at an international summit on terrorism because of this writing. None of that would have happened without the focus I gained from the OEP. I’m planning my next book, with a forward-thinking energy generated by my recent writing, submitting, and publishing.
With the help of Katherine Lanpher, Katie Orenstein, and my mentor, Annie Murphy Paul, I began to work with the Christian Science Monitor, The New York Post, and The New York Daily News. I’m now a regular contributor at The New York Post. The political writing I’ve been doing motivated me to testify to the US Congress. By working with the OEP, I became an established op-ed writer, and was therefore on the radar of the Homeland Security Committee. Congressman Peter King knew of the articles I had written and my record of public speaking, so I was considered and chosen to testify. Now, my written word is part of the public record and influences policy-makers.
Testifying to Congress entails submitting written and oral testimonials and participating in subsequent dialogues. One can be questioned about his/her viewpoint after the public hearing has ended; I still interact with the Homeland Security Committee. With impact comes significant responsibility, and in exercising my voice publicly I’ve learned to be accountable for what I say.
You may open an enormous door if you work with the OEP. I represent a voice that wants more ownership in our culture and I know how to begin influencing the public. My purpose is more than publishing articles; I want to influence the most important leaders, those who change foreign policy and look at mechanisms of counter-terrorism. I also want every opinion piece I publish to translate to an alternate form of media, like a television special, a lecture, or a radio segment. There are so many platforms from which to broadcast. It’s really a very exciting time to be a writer.
Dr. Ahmed’s work illustrates the OEP’s goal for all diverse, knowledgeable voices. Her op-eds improved her work environment, and act as powerful springboards. Her writing has lead to opportunities to express her views on different media platforms, and requests to write for various news outlets. Dr. Ahmed’s writing enables her to change the world; her publishings have established her credibility and allowed her to testify to policy-makers at the highest level. That level of influence through writing is something to which I aspire. Thank you, Dr. Ahmed, for your hard work and its reverberating impacts.