By Sarwar Kashani
New Delhi — As a teenager when Fakhrul Islam, now Frank F. Islam, crossed the Atlantic in 1970 to realise his American dream, the “shining city upon a hill” opened all its doors for him, helping him become one of the most-celebrated Indian-American businessmen in the US.
But today Islam, 53, fears that the country may be heading to its “darkest” era with President Donald Trump’s alleged discriminatory ban on immigrants and travellers from six Muslim-majority countries to protect the US from terrorist attacks.
The man from Azamgarh — the Uttar Pradesh district with a large Muslim population that had once earned the the disreputable moniker of “Aatankgarh”, the hub of terror in India — still feels that America continues to be an inclusive society despite President Trump’s efforts to stop immigrants from entering the US.
“Muslim ban was a wrong, shameful and unconstitutional move. This is not who we are. These are not the values of America. And this kind of ban represents (the) darkest and ugliest past of America. We don’t want to go back to that past. We have entered into a dark chapter of America,” Islam told IANS in a wide-ranging interview during a recent visit to India.
He said Trump has to realise that “35 per cent of the business in America, especially in the Silicon Valley, is from immigrants” who not only create wealth and also generate jobs for others.
“I still look at the brighter horizon. I have the sense of optimism and hope. We have to make sure that we can still create hopes, inspirations, and dreams in people, not anxiety, anger, and fear,” the businessman-turned-philanthropist said, quoting English Puritan lawyer John Winthrop, who described the America he imagined as a “shining city upon a hill” when he founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony in New England.
Notwithstanding the efforts of Trump, “who doesn’t represent what America stands for”, Islam said India needed to learn from the US how to give “opportunity to all to succeed”.
“There are lots of tools and mechanisms available in America for entrepreneurs to succeed, realise their dreams. That is something India needs to (do) and incubate the new generation of entrepreneurs,” he said, speaking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Start Up India, Stand Up India” scheme to boost entrepreneurship and encourage start-ups with jobs creation.
Islam’s is an inspiring rags-to-riches story. A son of a peasant family, he got his education at Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) before he moved to the US where he built a multi-million dollar IT empire. But he has not forgotten his “humble roots”.
“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur, a business owner. Entrepreneurs are made not born. Look at me, my own personal journey of humble beginning, from humble roots in Azamgarh, I became one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the US.
“I started my own business, the QSS Group, in 1994. I was able to build the group from one employee to 3,000 employees with revenue of $300 million in 12 years,” said Islam, who serves on a number boards and advisory councils, including the John F. Kennedy Center Board of Trustees, the US Institute of Peace, the Woodrow Wilson Center, and the Brookings Institution.
He also serves on various boards at more than half a dozen universities including Johns Hopkins, University, American University, and George Mason University.
Islam sold his business in 2007 for $700 million to start with his American wife The Frank Islam and Debbie Driesman Foundation that provides targeted financial assistance to civic, educational and artistic causes and groups.
The foundation built a $2 million management school at Islam’s alma mater AMU that he inaugurated in February. The school, he hopes, “will create more Frank Islams, more entrepreneurs who can make differences to people’s lives”.
He said being a philanthropic and sharing what he got from the society “is the part of my life that is much more enjoyable than making any money that I have made all my life”.
Sharing wealth is multiplying joy, he said about the culture that is still not in vogue in India.
“Americans have been very generous in helping humanity. I am guided by the words of President John F. Kennedy that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected’. It is a part of American DNA. People like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates have given billions of dollars to serve humanity.
“In India, it is a work in progress. It is good to build mosques, temples, and churches, but I should also say it is also important to invest in people. It is not (happening) in India as yet. You should build the same culture in India,” said the author of “Working the Pivot Points: To Make America Work Again” (2013) and “Renewing the American Dream” (2010).