When Failure is Not an Option

Host, Ken Harbaugh, interviews political leaders, influencers, and other history makers about the choices we confront when failure is not an option. Choices like Alexander the Great made when he landed his troops on the shores of Persia and ordered his men to burn their boats.

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Mansoor Shams: Muslim Marine

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Mansoor Shams: Muslim Marine

"The Marine Corps that I thought was always about ‘we wear green and bleed red’ somewhat started changing. When I say this, I also don't want to paint a picture that the entire Marine Corps is somehow racist and anti-Muslim - it's just not true. However, the Marine Corps is built up of people, of individuals and we're all at different capacities.” - Mansoor Shams

Mansoor Shams, founder of MuslimMarine.org, talks about both his good and bad experiences as a Muslim in the US Marine Corps, about patriotism in today’s America, and about making his life’s mission opening the minds of others.

Mansoor is a veteran, speaker, leader, and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. You can learn more about his work at MuslimMarine.org and follow him on Twitter at @MansoorTShams.

Ken Harbaugh: Burn the Boats is proud to support VoteVets, the nation’s largest and most impactful progressive veterans organization. To learn more, or to join their mission, go to VoteVets.org.

Mansoor Shams: The Marine Corps that I thought was always about, ‘we wear green and bleed red’ somewhat started changing. When I say this I also don't want to paint a picture that the entire Marine Corps is somehow racist, and anti-Muslim. It's just not true. However, the Marine Corps is built up of people, of individuals and we're all at different capacities.

KH: I’m Ken Harbaugh, and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions. On Burn the Boats, I interview political leaders and other history makers about choices they confront when failure is not an option.

Today I sat down with Mansoor Shams, founder of MuslimMarine.org. He has shared his message of unity and dialogue across the country in places like police departments, college campuses, and even the headquarters of the National Security Agency. He joined me remotely to share that same message on Burn the Boats from his home - kids in the background and all.

Mansoor Shams, welcome to Burn the Boats. You're a US Marine veteran and the founder of MuslimMarine.org where you use your experience as both a Muslim and a Marine to counter hate, bigotry, and Islamophobia through education, conversation, and dialogue. You came to the country from Pakistan when you were six years old. Tell me about your arrival to the United States and your first impressions.

MS: Well, I have just small glimpses that I remember. The first time that I'd seen an escalator which was I think in New York. It was something completely new to me. My mom, she has two kids around six years old. And I'm scared to get on the escalator until this person, this lady comes around and she softly grabs my hand and she gives me this calm and gets me onto the escalator and takes me up. That was my first memory of how the country that I had just entered had just welcomed me in, from that small action of that lady that she probably was not even thinking about was just practicing common courtesy. So that was my first entry point when it comes to the United States of America.

KH: It sounds like you've got your own six year old in the background. I love, believe it or not, the new reality of remote podcasting from home studios. Clearly your arrival in the US began that path that eventually sent you to a recruiter's office to serve your adopted country. What motivated you to enlist?

MS: Now I'm going to fast forward a lot. That time was a very different time. I came from a broken home. In fact, when I did come to the United States, my mother had already been divorced and she was a mother of two. I'd grown up in that lifestyle where I hadn't seen my father for maybe 8 to 10 years afterwards. She remarried and unfortunately that marriage also came to an end. All of these things that had been taking place that are I guess somewhat normal in life to a certain extent, I mean divorce and being separated from parents and all that sort of stuff had a pretty serious impact on me. I used to be a straight A sort of student on my early years as I remember. As these realities hit my life more and more, my grades started to decline. I specifically remember in high school I had really, really lost interest in education. It came to a point where I wanted to find my own path. I wanted to become my own man. I wanted to step on my own two feet. For me that was the Marine Corps. I originally took a test, the ASVAB test which is the required test for any branch of the military that you would join, through a Navy recruiter. But as I came close to that final contract point for some weird reason I felt like I wanted to be part of the best, you know?

KH: No offense taken. That's all right.

MS: It was weird. I know it sounds corny but it's really true. It's the uniforms, all that sort of stuff, and I think just that stage of finding my way and feeling that I hadn't done much. This was that thing for me that was going to give me that sense of accomplishment. So I joined and I joined the United States Marine Corps.

KH: You know I talk to a lot of young people who join the military and I think this is more true so for those who join the Marines than any other branch, who do it out of that impulse to test themselves, to join the best of the best. The patriotic drive in some ways is secondary, but there's something about that experience after enlistment, and upon joining that mission and that group of other young men and women who have committed to it that instills or builds on that more latent sense of patriotism. Was that your experience as well? Was it patriotism primarily that drove you or is that something that came later?

MS: Sadly in this day and age, my faith that I hold to be very dear to me, the Muslim faith, there's this association that somehow if you're Muslim you cannot be loyal to the United States of America, or somehow you have other interests that are at play. And for me I never thought about this. It's very ironic perhaps that when I decided to join the United States Marine Corps, it was very natural for me because my faith by its default setting taught that loyalty to nation of residence, was a part of your faith. That's why when I decided to join the United States Marine Corps there was no one in my family saying, "Hey, what are you doing? Are you crazy?"

KH: To highlight that, you draw directly from the Quran in explaining to people that commitment to one's place of residence right? That's not invented.

MS: Exactly. My grandfather is a missionary his entire life. I mention this because I had spent several years of my life with him in his household because of the situation that we had. So I came from a very practicing Muslim family. In fact I sometimes say it was very Muslim of me to become a United States Marine.

KH: But in such a way that you, at least upon joining and during your time in uniform, I have to imagine didn't consider yourself as the Muslim Marine. That is something that came afterwards as a second mission in life in answer to some of the bigotry that you encountered and that we're seeing writ large across the country now with what is happening in our politics.

MS: Very much so. To me when I joined the United States Marine Corps, I didn't join as a Muslim Marine. These things didn't even occur to me. I joined as a person who loved his nation. You talked about patriotism, that's naturally patriotic because you know that there's this chance when you sign on that dotted line that you may not come back alive. You go in with that risk, there is that little piece that's tied to this contract. Obviously patriotism was a part of me naturally knowing that reality, but going back to your question about calling myself Muslim Marine right, no that didn't come until 2015. In fact even when I left the Marine Corps, it's not something that I boasted about. I don't think a lot of veterans boast about it at all. It's something that I did. I was very happy about it, something that I'm very proud of. Something that I accomplished. But when the rhetoric, and the hate, and the bigotry got so out of control it was almost a calling. It triggered from a friend who had a conversation with me and he said in short, "I'm a Muslim doctor. You're a Muslim Marine. They'll listen to you." Not too long after, I founded muslimmarine.org.

KH: I definitely want to talk about that, and the impact you're making, but I want to dwell a little bit longer on your time in the Corps as a Muslim. Because even though you wore green, and you bled red just like every one of your fellow Marines, it didn't mean you subordinated your faith. I'd love for you to share the story about asking your drill instructor at boot camp to offer a Muslim prayer along side the Catholic and Protestant prayers that were offered at the end of every training day. And for those who don't appreciate this, when you're going through boot camp, and the closest I came was officer candidate school where we did have Marine drill instructors - that Marine DI is God. Not to be sacrilegious, but that Marine DI can end you if he or she chooses to do so. To have the temerity to ask anything of them much less to offer a prayer at the end of the day, I mean hats off to you man. Tell me how that went.

MS: You know as I remember it, it wasn't as scary. Yes, there was naturally a sense of... You have a little taste of it so you know what bootcamp is like. What I'm saying is that it was intimidating, and I didn't do it on day one.

KH: Smart.

MS: This was a process. I consistently participated in both the Catholic and Protestant prayer. For some reason in my mind one day I had the courage to ask the drill instructor. And I asked him if I could lead the Muslim prayer. He was very nice about it. Yes was the answer. I got up, and I would recite, there's a common Muslim prayer, it's called Surah Fatiha. It takes about, less than 30 seconds. I would get up in front of the guys and go ahead and recite that.

It was interesting because afterwards I had a lot of interest. I had lot of Marine recruits come up to me on that Sunday break where you have a few hours to yourself to focus on your religious duties or observations, to ask me a little bit more and better understanding of Islam. But I think what really changed things was of course 9/11.

I was actually in the Marine Corps prior to, during, and after 9/11 even into the Iraq War. In general I will tell you that I think the Marine Corps helped me find my Muslimness. It made me a stronger Muslim.

KH: How so? That's fascinating to me.

MS: Well, I wasn't around any Muslims. Here's something called 9/11 that takes place. It just shakes the world. It shakes our country. I don't know what the heck has happened. We were actually giving a class, a session to Marines that had just graduated from their MOS school. And in the center of this classroom was this big, bulky television at that time. I'm walking in and out, in and out doing my work and also trying to keep up with what's going on. You find out that the country is getting attacked.

Of course, just as any other Marine you're in this mode of ‘what can I do? How can I serve? This is our time. We're going to do whatever it takes’. But as time went on, we start finding out the details, where this attack came from, and the association of the Islamic faith. Now I begin feeling somewhat uncomfortable. The Marine Corps that I thought was always about, as you said ‘we wear green and bleed red’, it somewhat started changing. When I say this I also don't want to paint a picture that the entire Marine Corps is somehow racist, and anti-Muslim. It's just not true. However, the Marine Corps is built up of people, of individuals and we're all at different capacities.

So some Marines did start behaving a little bit differently. It started off in jokes, terrorist, and Taliban, and Osama bin Laden, like name calling. Other people, you would get this sense of vibe that there was this awkwardness. The treatment by certain individuals, the way they would look at me, and some senior in position, was not the same anymore. I think it was a combination of who I was, where I was born, and where I had come from, and what was happening in front of me that started really helping me to look into who I was as a person and what I believed in.

I started researching my Islamic faith more and more and more. I think that's why I say the Marine Corps helped me become a stronger, a better Muslim because at 18, 19 years old you're still finding your path. For me I found it very quickly when these sort of incidents started taking place.

KH: How did that experience affect your love for the Marine Corps? I want to believe that amongst the fellow Marines who looked at you differently, there were those who embraced your experience as a Muslim and saw it as an asset. Were there also those Marines who appreciated how important it was to have Muslims in the Corps?

MS: It was difficult, especially when you have senior people, I recall, for example, a time where it was Ramadan and my gunny went up to the warrant officer to get clearance to say that, "Hey, why don't we just let him do his PFT?" The PFT, just to clarify, is a combination of a three mile run, 20 pull ups, and 100 crunches under two minutes. It's something that as a Marine you would do every 6 months and you get scored on it. He went up to seek permission and he was not granted that permission. They made me run a PFT while I was fasting.

KH: Well, not just fasting. You can't drink from sunrise to sunset during-

MS: That's right. That's right. But here's the other side. If there's something negative there's a positive right? Here's the positive. The gunny, I can never forget his name, Gunny Castlebury- He comes back. He's shaking his head. He's like, "Shams, I tried my best. You're going to have to run this PFT." And this man takes his car and literally drives next to me on that entire three mile run just to make sure I wouldn't pass out. This is amazing. I want to remember that moment because that's a very special moment to me. It was like a scene out of a Rocky movie literally, you know?

I can never forget that. When you have these other incidents you also have incidents like this which I am grateful for. That just shows to me that the Marine Corps is much bigger than 3, or 4, or 5, or 10 people. If a few people gave me a hard time, well there was a bunch of others that didn't, and a bunch of others that went out of their way.

KH: Before I forget, shout out to Gunner Sergeant Castlebury, if you're listening. We'll see if the gunny's on Twitter. That's a pretty great story.

MS: Not just a gunny but I would say I think he was a strong Christian.

KH: Wow.

MS: We knew that he was a Christian. He had that belief system, but again that didn't matter, which is amazing. And as time went on I also became an advocate. I sort of became known. They have something called the Prayer Breakfast for example. I was selected at Camp Lejeune to lead the Muslim prayer. They had a Christian person. They had a Jewish person. I was the representative for the Muslim faith.

KH: For context, Camp Lejeune is a massive base with tens of thousands of Marines. And you're leading the prayer breakfast there as what, a PFC?

MS: I must have been a lance corporal.

KH: A lance corporal.

MS: Yeah. A lance corporal.

KH: Good on you.

MS: It's a big deal.

KH: 9/11 obviously is an inflection point for the country no doubt, but for your experience as a US Marine, a practicing Muslim. Did you find yourself willingly or not having to serve as an ambassador for your faith and trying to communicate to your fellow Marines what Islam actually meant, that it wasn't at all represented in the actions of those hijackers on 9/11?

MS: I tried to go beyond. Ken, I reached out to my command, and I said, "Send me." I was stationed at a non-deployable unit because we were a training command, so our job was to train Marines who would deploy to wherever they would deploy to. But because I knew that I possessed a certain skillset, for example my ability to speak a different language like Urdu which is the national language of Pakistan, my understanding of that culture, that part of the world. My understanding of the Islamic faith, I thought I was an asset to the Marine Corps so I notified my chain of command to let them know that if they need me in any capacity to serve I'm there.

You have to understand this is my mindset. For me when anyone comes up with these negative views and pointing fingers, it just perplexes me because my natural inclination every single time as someone of the Muslim faith, as someone who is an American, as someone who was a United States Marine was to serve, to do whatever I could for the country that I called home you know?

KH: Did you find the Marines around you changing their minds in a positive way about Islam and Muslims because of their friendship with you or just their exposure to a fellow Marine who was Muslim?

MS: There was a mix. You're around a certain group of people. The ones that were making jokes, name calling and all that sort of stuff, I didn't know what to say in the beginning to be very honest. I just laughed it off. That was the first part of it.

Then after some sort of time when it got too much, at that point I had to nip it in the bud and start responding back. The troubling part of it is that I believe, sincerely believe, that there were certain individuals, some of senior rank, who had... I can't peek into somebody's heart and mind, but you know human body language, it says a lot. Human beings aren't stupid. If you go outside and you came to my house today, and you're like, "Hi, Mansoor. How you doing?" I'm like, "Hey, Ken." Right away your feeling would be like, "Maybe I should have not came." But I'm like, "Hi, Ken. Hey, what's going on? It's great to meet you man. Come inside," right? Right there at that moment you have this sense of comfort.

And I believe that that was not there. I think there were certain individuals who were in senior positions, who had a direct role over myself and there was this loss of trust that was there. That's hard. That's hard when I'm like the guy who's raising his hand. I'm like, "Hey, send me. I'm here to serve." And you're looking at me like that.

KH: Yeah, I've got to ask because I'm imagining you were getting it from both sides. On the one hand, especially after 9/11 there were fellow Marines who were skeptical of your loyalty to the Corps and to the country. On the other side you must have received criticism from fellow Muslims for your service to the United States as a US Marine.

MS: Not during the time while I was in the Marine Corps, but since I have became a Muslim Marine from time to time I do get certain, I guess you want to call it hate mail or hate messages from individuals who profess to be Muslim. They have these natural emotions that's hard to make sense of how can someone be a Muslim when there's so much death that's been caused in Muslim majority nations largely by the United States?

KH: How do you answer that?

MS: There are two different ways you answer this. One is that you help people realize that the role of the military, and the role of politics, they have to be separated. As much as they're intertwined, the military's job is not really to, as you know, to ask a lot of questions. Their job is to do it. You have in any democratic nation including Pakistan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan decides if he needs to go into a war and then the military's job is to obey those orders.

Secondly I try to normalize it because I think there is just a lot of emotion that's tied up that they're trying to juggle with. One of which is that I try to explain to them that if you take just the Muslim world for example, like for example today if you take Iran and you take Saudi Arabia, there arch enemies. They're both Muslim nations. I ask them, "When is the last time you saw an Iranian Muslim soldier and a Saudi Arabian Muslim soldier throw off their weapon and say, 'Hey, come give me a hug? We're both Muslims.'" No, they defend and protect their respective countries. Actually, that's what their faith calls for.

The Iranian soldier is going to defend Iran. The Saudi soldier is going to defend Saudi. The American soldier, if I had been part of the Pakistani military, or Iranian military I'd be defending those but I'm not. I'm part of the United States of America. I'm a citizen of the United States of America, so it is my duty and responsibility to defend that nation. That's how I normalize the argument.

I think most people then get it, but it’s very hard to explain to someone who's been in that setting, in a place like Iraq, and they've seen massive death. It's not going to work. How do you explain to someone who's lost a family member in Iraq because of some bomb or something? You're not going to be able to explain that.

KH: So you've brought us up to date into the current political context. Now you are a former Marine self identifying as a Muslim Marine to serve as an ambassador both for your faith and for your patriotism, your love of this country. But that has got to be difficult with a president who has said, and this is not paraphrasing, he has said Islam hates us. How does your defense of your patriotism incorporate the current reality of a commander in chief who has issued such anti-Muslim comments supposedly commanding a military with incredibly loyal Muslim soldiers, and Marines, and airmen like you?

MS: It's tough. I have to keep it honest. It's tough. It's hard to grapple with. You expect different parts of society to make such sort of comments but you don't expect the commander in chief. Even when 9/11 took place, the tone of President Bush...

I don't think I felt ever the sort of vibe that I've felt from this president from President Bush who clearly came out as a leader to say, even though I disagree with him in the way he handled a lot of things, but when it came to this point he came out and he said that we were not at war with Islam.

KH: No, he visited the mosque in the immediate aftermath.

MS: Correct. He was very, very clear he didn't want this to be mixed up. Here was this president, our current president, who's taken a completely different path. I've come to deal with it by telling myself that one individual, even if he be the commander in chief, is not the representation of America. Because if I allow my mind to get to that and say that President Trump is a representation of America, I think I'll probably go crazy. This is how I deal with it. I tell myself over and over again any time he spews negativity, hate, bigotry, anti-Muslim rhetoric I say, "No, no. No Mansoor. He's just one person. He's not the representation of my America." That's it. That's how I can tackle this thing.

KH: In a Newsweek op-ed, granted a couple years old now, but in that op-ed you wrote that you try to give President Trump the benefit of the doubt when he says such things. Does that still hold?

MS: You know Ken, I've tried to have a very, very balanced approach in my mind. If we can control anything we can control ourselves, and our mentality, and the way we think, and the way we handle things. I try over and over and over again to understand his perspective. How many times I think in life have you and I said something and we're like, ‘we regret it. We wish we had never said it.’

Granted, he says it over, and over again. And apparently he doesn't have any regrets. But as a spiritual person, I keep a balance. In my mind I say, "Okay, this guy is also a creation of that creator. What can I do to better understand this... Where is he coming from? Does he have the right people around him? What's making him say this stuff?" Sometimes I think that it's just part of his personality. Other times the benefit of the doubt part, maybe he just doesn't know. It's not an easy thing. I think any one of us depending on where we are in our maturity level or our spiritual level gets affected differently, but that's the way I've learned to deal with it.

KH: When young people come to you today contemplating enlisting in the US Military or a career in service, what do you tell them?

MS: Are you referring to a Muslim?

KH: Well, I don't want to differentiate necessarily because I don't think the motivation should be that different but I'll leave it to you to answer how you want.

MS: I think it's important actually to talk about that because you have to understand, because we just talked about the president's rhetoric and the comments that he makes. Muslim Americans are here to stay. You have people that are feeling really, really bummed out because of the state of the nation and the things that are happening. They're dealing with things on a day to day basis that maybe don't get highlighted in stories. My job, or my goal is to try to highlight those stories. Then you have another facet who's now confused because they're like, "Do I belong, or do I not belong," because this president has made you feel like you don't belong. I mean, I’ve grappled with it. This guy can really get to you. He can get under your skin, especially in the bully pulpit that he holds, and the position that he holds. But when a person who is interested in joining the armed forces where they're of the Muslim faith and they want to join the armed forces. They reach out to me and they say, "What do I do? Will I be able to pray? Are they going to treat me equally? Should I join? Should I not join?" These are very tough questions.

One part of me says that if you want to bring change into this country, into the world, then you got to go do it. You got to be a part of the process. Today if I'm able to have any influence it's because... Honestly it's because I have that title of US Marine. I'll go even to an extreme side. One of the reasons why someone who is completely anti Muslim and they have this crazy ideology, a large majority of them do respect people of the armed forces. Largely in the United States of America people have a respect for the armed forces. Because I happen to hold the position that I hold, I'm in a very unique position now to have that conversation because now they're stuck. They're like, "Okay, this guy is saying he's a Muslim, but on top of it he's a Marine. What the heck is going on? How do I make sense of this." That's my inroad to start that conversation. But when it comes to individuals who are reaching out to me, they're done on a case by case basis because I think everybody's situation is different.

If you go dig deeper and you ask me if my son, he's 13 right now, I'm not sure Ken, what I would tell him because the unpredictable nature of this president. Because at the end of the day the commander in chief is the one who calls the shots. And I'm not sure if I would fully recommend someone going into the armed forces while this president calls the shots. I struggle with it. I don't have a clear answer for you.

KH: That's got to be an incredibly difficult emotion to wrestle with considering you risked your life for this country. You joined believing, not just believing in the Constitution but swearing an oath which you were prepared to uphold with your life, and now you have to debate whether or not to recommend to others that same degree of commitment.

MS: It's really tough. If you're able to separate the Marine Corps from the commander in chief, which is a little bit tough but you can do it, I also try to go down that path. I try to explain to them that the Marine Corps doesn't care if you're Christian, or you're Jewish, or you're Muslim, and that there is reasonable accommodations and respect for faith.

That gives people comfort who are of the Muslim faith to, "Okay, I can go..." They can separate the commander in chief's rhetoric from an organization standpoint. Then on top of it I always tell them, "Look. There is something called disobeying an order, that if you really felt that you were being given an unlawful order, well you know what? The military allows you to go and take that path.’

KH: Well, let me build on that. The military doesn't just allow you to disobey an unlawful order. It obligates you to disobey-

MS: Yes. Thank you.

KH: ... unlawful order. Yeah, absolutely. You're bound by the UCMJ, Universal Code of Military Justice and the Constitution, not an unlawful presidential order. That I think serves as a great rejoinder to the bigotry of Trump and his enablers, many of which are in the media and serve as megaphones for that bigotry. You have a great quote from another op-ed thanking, and I'm quoting now, "All those who align themselves with such bigotry for belittling US Military service members and veterans who weren't born here. I hope you all sleep easy tonight as the thousands of immigrants serving in uniform continue protecting your free speech."

Well said. In the spirit of the free speech theme, I want to ask one more question. I think it gets to the heart of what you are doing with your muslimemarine.org platform. You chose to participate in a convocation at Liberty University, a conservative Christian school the president of which said following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, quote, "I've always thought that if more good people had concealed carry permits then we could end those Muslims before they walked in. Let's teach them a lesson if they ever show up here." Why in the world would you participate in a conversation at a university led by someone who would think, much less say such a thing?

MS: It's really interesting that you mentioned that because that was the exact quote, there was that video going around of President Falwell saying that stuff which caught my attention. I took to Twitter. I was pretty much asking Twitter to take down, that this was fueling hate, and he's saying to go shoot Muslims pretty much. That's what he's saying. Somehow I guess he came across my tweet and he responds. He says that I'm taking it out of context and that was not what he meant. At that point I had an opportunity to respond because I had caught his attention. I could have either said, "You're crazy. You're an idiot. You know exactly what you were saying and the damage is done," or the path that I took it down was like, "Okay, I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. Let me come to Liberty." Lo and behold, he actually complimented me on his Twitter account somewhere saying that I was like a breath of fresh air, and he followed me on Twitter.

He sent me a personal message, connected me with his senior advisor. I went and I spoke at Liberty University. I will say, Ken, it was one of the best experiences that I had. I've done many speaking engagements. I've never been treated the way I was treated there. I mean it was just overboard.

Very respectful. They asked me to bring my family. I did take my family. I don't have anything bad to say. I want to be very honest about it. I think every moment of it was worth it.

Ken, afterwards, after we had that panel I had students lined up for an hour and a half to shake my hand. It was an amazing experience. I also think that Jerry Falwell's views are not necessarily representative of the students of Liberty University, even all of the staff. I think he's an instrument. He's an individual just like I say that the president of the United States, President Trump is not representative of every American. I take issue with some of his views and some of the ways he conducts himself, but it doesn't mean we have to fall to such a low level of not having the ability to listen to one another and understand one another.

I want to give them kudos for allowing me to come, and to be able to engage in a conversation. I think that should be commended. At the same time I think that they have a lot of work to do in general. The leadership there is, there's one side of that and then there's the other side is the people. I will tell you the students there were some of the most wonderful students, wonderful human beings that I've ever met.

KH: Well, thank you for sharing that Mansoor and I really do think it captures the entire spirit of what your platform is attempting to do. We end every show with the same question; what is your Burn the Boats decision? What is the bravest or toughest decision that you've ever had to make?

MS: The founding of muslimemarine.org has become my life calling. I have been a business person. I was doing this sort of stuff simultaneously, and business for me, I was an export consumer electronics and accessories over the last eight, nine years while running MuslimMarine. That came to a decline, practically a close. And I figured out very quickly that looking at spreadsheets, looking at profits and all that sort of stuff just does not interest me at all. What can I do for this nation? What can I do to bring this country together? For me, I think I have found my purpose, to educate, to bring our people together to unite this nation. As an MBA you can say that's a crazy decision. But for me it's just none of that stuff interests me anymore. My purpose, my calling has completely changed and I feel like this is my service to the nation, and this is going to be my sort of... What was my purpose in life? This will be it.

KH: Well, thank you Mansoor for sharing. Thanks for coming on Burn the Boats. It's been an honor having you. Semper fi.

MS: Semper fi. Thanks Ken.

KH: Thanks again to Mansoor for joining me. You can learn more about his mission to fight Islamophobia through education at MuslimMarine.org and follow him on Twitter at @mansoortshams.

Next episode, in honor of Father’s Day, I’m talking to Fred Guttenberg, the gun safety advocate whose daughter Jaime was killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fred tells me how the loss of his daughter drives him, what changes must be made to ensure safer gun laws, and what draws Americans to firearms in the first place.

We won’t be including audience submissions in this episode, but we still want to hear your thoughts. Write us a comment on Facebook or Twitter, or send an email to [email protected].

If you enjoyed today’s episode of Burn the Boats, please rate and review us on iTunes - it really helps other listeners find the show.

Thanks to our partner, VoteVets. Their mission is to give a voice to veterans on matters of national security, veterans’ care, and issues that affect the lives of those who have served. VoteVets is backed by more than 700,000 veterans, family members, and their supporters. To learn more, go to VoteVets.org.

Burn the Boats is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. Special thanks to Evergreen executive producers Joan Andrews and Michael DeAloia. Our producer is Isabel Robertson. Audio engineer is Sean Rule-Hoffman. Our theme music is Climbing to Greatness by Cody Martin.

I’m Ken Harbaugh and this is Burn the Boats, a podcast about big decisions.

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Sarah Longwell: How to Save the GOP

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:18
Sarah Longwell, publisher of the Bulwark and co-founder of Republicans for the Rule of Law, talks about being a staunchly “Never Trump” Republican and about what the future of her party looks like.
Listen to Sarah Longwell: How to Save the GOP

Pride Month: Gina Ortiz Jones

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:17.5
This rerun in honor of Pride month features a conversation with Gina Ortiz Jones, Democratic candidate for Congress in Texas’s 23rd district, about the challenges of being a gay service member under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, as well as her difficult race to represent her district.
Listen to Pride Month: Gina Ortiz Jones

Fred Guttenberg: Father of Two

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:17
Fred Guttenberg, gun safety advocate whose daughter Jaime was killed at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, talks about how the loss of his daughter drives him, what changes must be made to ensure safer gun laws, and what draws Americans to firearms in the first place.
Listen to Fred Guttenberg: Father of Two

Soledad O’Brien: Journalism’s ‘Tough Love’ Critic

Burn the Boats | S:1 E:15
Award-winning journalist Soledad O’Brien talks about the current news landscape, what success means in journalism, and her flexibility and optimism in seizing new opportunities.
Listen to Soledad O’Brien: Journalism’s ‘Tough Love’ Critic

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