Bernie Sanders Meets Dr. Suzanne Barakat
There’s a powerful story hidden in this video that the media team wasn’t aware of when they produced it, making it all the more meaningful.
Two weeks ago, Senator Sanders’ campaign released a profoundly moving video that I’d like to share with you today. But first I’d like to take a few moments to say why it’s so special. There’s a powerful story hidden in this video that the media team wasn’t aware of when they produced it, making it all the more meaningful.
The woman who appears in the final scene of this video with Bernie is no ordinary hijabi. This is our dear sister Dr. Suzanne Barakat. Suzanne’s younger brother Deah, his bride of six weeks Yusor, and Yusor’s sister Razan were brutally murdered – execution style – in their home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina four years ago. It was a harrowing Islamophobic hate crime that devastated her family and shook our community deeply.
This encounter between Suzanne and Bernie wasn’t planned. We were sitting in the ADA section next to the stage at the campaign rally in San Francisco. At the end of what was a wonderfully uplifting rally, we noticed the senator coming around the front to greet supporters after he had descended from the podium. A few of us from our group rushed up to meet him and thank him for his kind words in support of Muslims.
Suzanne didn’t get a chance to share her story with the senator in that fleeting moment, just a heartfelt thank you, a smile, and the sweetness of her son, who the senator received warmly. He didn’t know who she was, nor did anyone from his media team.
Our friend Basim managed to capture the precious moment in a few photos on his cell phone. We huddled around his phone afterwards in amazement. It turned out Basim had some mad iPhone photography skills. We couldn’t get over how stunning his shots were.
The images Basim took stayed with me well after the event. These weren’t ordinary photos – something about them felt iconic. As I was driving home, I recalled the stories Senator Sanders shared publicly for the first time when he launched his campaign a few weeks ago at his rally in Brooklyn, New York – stories about his experience with anti-Semitism, about his family’s history with the Holocaust, about his relatives who were killed by Hitler’s men.
And I thought about the parallels with Suzanne’s story. There was so much shared experience in those photos. So much pain. So much resilience. So much love. And there was something particularly poignant about the life and innocence of her little boy amid the hate and violence and senseless killing that marked the stories his elders carried with them in these images, stories he’d one day inherit.
I connected with Suzanne over the phone later that night and shared some of these thoughts with her. The meaning I saw in the photos had not been lost on her either. I suggested she share the photos on Facebook along with a reflection on the connection she shared with Senator Sanders, believing it could have an impact. The timing seemed appropriate, in light of the recent tragedy in New Zealand.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to, she said, but that it was painful for her to talk about. The Christchurch shootings had conjured up the trauma for her again, and she was struggling with her loss. She was going to give it some thought.
This was Sunday evening. Then, Monday afternoon, I was scrolling through my timeline when, to my surprise, I saw the video on a friend’s page with Suzanne and her son appearing in the thumbnail. We had no idea she was being filmed.
The video highlights the exact connections between Suzanne’s story and the senator’s that we were contemplating. The video editors closed the film with her and her son, not knowing their family were victims of the very bigotry and Islamophobic violence Bernie speaks out against throughout the footage. They probably just thought it was a good shot of the senator with a hijabi. They couldn’t have known how poignant it was to end the video with her.
This feels like more than a coincidence. Suzanne and her son appearing in this video to me is a lot like the time that little birdie landed on the senator’s podium when he was speaking at his Portland rally last election season. It turns out that incident took place on March 25, 2016, exactly three years ago to the date this video was released. Yes, the video was released on the exact same day. The symbolism is hard to miss. It must be another good omen.
Three generations. Two different faith traditions. One common humanity, as Bernie says.
Thank you, Senator Sanders, for your empathy and compassion and loving, moral leadership.
To everyone else, please keep Suzanne and her family in your prayers.
My friend Dr. Suzanne Barakat appears in a very moving video with Senator Sanders about our fight to conquer hate.
Take a couple minutes out of your day to watch and share this special video.
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