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The Chosen One

Deedra Abboud
Mr. G

One Sunday evening in February, Deedra Abboud serves dinner at her north Phoenix home. The first course is lentil soup and lamb, followed by a dish of pickles, carrots and olives. Falafel, hummus, crab samboosa, cucumber sauce.

And then, pot roast and mashed potatoes.

You can take the girl out of the South -- Little Rock, Arkansas, to be exact -- and put her in a headscarf, but she'll bring her cookbook with her.

Deedra Abboud just gets more interesting from there. She's got a copy of the Koran, too.

Abboud is a Muslim, a self-proclaimed feminist, and she does the dishes. She defends her husband's right under Islam to have as many as four wives. "But I wouldn't want that," Abboud says, her hands deep in soap suds, her pastel blue headscarf, or hijab, hugging her round face. "I wouldn't agree to it. Not right now, anyway."

A lot of multicultural couples have blended their beliefs to make a marriage work, but Deedra Abboud's not just a Southern girl who converted to Islam and married a guy from Iraq. She's the director of the Arizona chapter of the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation, a Washington-based civil rights group.

Abboud is 34. Not so long ago, she was a Southern Baptist, a business major at the University of Arkansas, where she warned Muslim students that they were going to Hell for treating women poorly.

Now, she prays five times a day, but chooses which interpretations of Islam work and don't work for her, personally. In conversation, she admits she doesn't understand the fuss over the Danish cartoon controversy that's sparked violent protests around the world.

"If Muslims want to protest," she says, "why don't they protest Guantánamo?"

But her press releases say something else. "The [Danish] paper wanted to instigate trouble by disrespecting Muslims from the very beginning," she wrote in an e-mail to local media on February 9. But, she also wrote, "Deliberate provocations like these cartoons only gives additional power to extremists -- who we are all attempting to fight in the 'war on terror.'"

Her measured diplomacy is an asset, as well as a burden.

Still, Deedra Abboud is the chosen one, picked by Muslim men to be the face of Islam in Arizona. A white, fair-skinned face with ocean-blue eyes and a disarming smile.

And that's just about the only thing that makes perfect sense.


The youngest daughter of four born to a Methodist mother and a Southern Baptist father, Abboud hasn't been in touch with her father -- who Deedra says was a cheater and physically abused her mother -- since she was a kid.

"I never really knew him," Abboud says. "I didn't care to."

She hasn't spoken to her mother, Jean Fullbright, in a year. Fullbright could not be reached for this story, although Abboud says she's living somewhere in the Valley. Fullbright came to live with Abboud and her husband, Ali, but moved out after she and Ali quarreled not about religion but over Fullbright's untidy habits, like eating in bed. The following account is Deedra Abboud's own.

Her parents divorced when Deedra was 4. Abboud says her mother was awarded custody of the children as well as child support that Deedra's father never paid. In 1976, Arkansas law enforcement officials weren't rounding up deadbeat dads.

So Jean became a deputy sheriff, Abboud says, to go after guys like her ex-husband. Jean even spearheaded a state law, according to Deedra, that allowed the state to garnish the wages of noncustodial parents in 1979.

Jean remarried. But when Deedra's father was kicked out by his second wife when Deedra was a teenager, her mother welcomed him back into the house -- forcing her new husband out. Deedra's mother and father parted ways for a second time, though -- and for good -- four years later.

Abboud used to think her mother was a man-hater. Now she knows it's not that simple -- she calls her mom a feminist, instead.

"I learned from my mom that you don't need a man to make it in this world," she says. "My mother was very self-sufficient and taught us girls that we needed to be as well."

And so she was turned off by Islam -- or "Muhammadism," as one of her junior high teachers called it -- when she was told that Muslim women were neither self-sufficient nor capable of being so.

"My teacher also taught us that Muslims were going to Hell. And I think I believed her at first," Abboud says. "But I also wanted to know how this woman knew who was going to Hell and who was going to Heaven."

 

Deedra remained a devout Christian from her senior year at Little Rock's Central High School until she went away to college at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the early 1990s.

There, she came across Muslim students attempting to spread the word of Islam by passing out pamphlets to fellow students going to class. From what Deedra knew of Islam, the religion kept women sheathed in black and "two steps behind men."

"I used to yell at them that they were going to Hell," Abboud says, laughing. "I think I just got a charge out of arguing with them."

Her love of conflict prompted Abboud to then seek out a copy of the Koran, "just so I could argue better," she says. But after searching throughout Little Rock and coming up empty, she says she drove six hours to Houston, Texas, to find it.

"That's when I sort of became enlightened," she says. "A lot of the things that didn't make sense to me in Christianity were starting to make sense to me through Islam."

Such as the story of Adam and Eve, in which "Eve was supposedly the source of all evil," Abboud says. "Yeah, I had a big problem with that. I learned that, in Islam, [Adam and Eve] were equally responsible and they were equally punished."

In Christian teachings, she never understood how Jesus could be the son of God.

"God doesn't have a gender, so therefore, he cannot be a father," she says. Nor did she comprehend "why Jesus would've died for our sins," she says. "How can anybody take responsibility for someone else's sins?"

Islam was beginning to provide answers to her questions.

"But," she adds, "I still argued!"

Abboud's older sister, Sharm Baker, who lives in Houston and works as a project manager for an engineering firm, remembers discussing what she calls "DeeDee's confusion" about Islam before Abboud converted.

"I think all of us, my mother and my sisters, were a little concerned for her," says Baker, a churchgoing Christian. "Personally, I was surprised, maybe bewildered. I didn't know a lot about [Islam] myself, but I grew to understand how the clarity of Islam drove her.

"We're all looking for direction, a path," Baker says. "Religion helps stabilize us."


The deep South was no place for Deedra Abboud to contemplate a conversion to Islam.

"Bible belt? Arkansas? Come on," she says.

After graduating from college with a degree in business, Abboud took a trip to Phoenix with her mother in 1998. She fell in love with the desert, and moved here.

Shortly after arriving in the Valley, she heard about an open house at the Tempe Islamic Cultural Center, the mosque near Arizona State University.

There, she met Yuko Davis, a Japanese-American Muslim who, like Abboud, was raised in the South. Davis was married to Ahmad Al-Akoum. Al-Akoum, along with the Muslim American Society, was hosting the event. Al-Akoum was a board member with MAS and later became the chairman of the board of the Islamic Cultural Center.

"My wife was in the back of the mosque with the ladies," says Al-Akoum, who is Lebanese. "She was answering questions for non-Muslim people, and she introduced me to Deedra.

"Deedra asked the basic questions about what Islam meant, what were the tenets of the religion. We talked for maybe an hour or so, and not long after the open house, she came to us and said she wanted to convert."

But, as he finds is often the case with new converts, Al-Akoum had to restrain Deedra from strutting her new beliefs too fast.

He warned her, as her spiritual adviser, that maybe she should wait to wear the hijab.

"I think she, like many others, was very excited to begin her new life," Al-Akoum says.

Abboud was so excited that she flew home to Arkansas to tell her mother about her conversion. She chose not to wear the hijab.

"In Islam, you don't shock your family," Abboud says. "And I knew if I walked off the plane wearing the headscarf, well, that would really shock my mother."

So she took it slow.

"I sat down at the table with my mother and explained to her that I had become a Muslim," she recalls. "And then I brought out the headscarf slowly."

Her mother recoiled.

"She said, 'After 50 years of women fighting for our equality, you're going to hide your beauty?'" Abboud says. "I said, 'After 50 years, don't you think we earned the right to choose whether we wear short skirts and low-cut tops or if we're going to be judged on our intelligence?'

 

"She's been fine with my being Muslim ever since."

When she returned to Arizona, Abboud struggled to find a job where she would be welcome to wear the hijab. She came across a Muslim-owned construction company whose owners actually wanted a secretary who wore one.

Her boss was a guy named Ali Abboud.

Seated at the dinner table in their home, Deedra recalls the first time she met her husband. Ali listens, smiling. After Ali showed her to her desk the first day on the job, Deedra says, he turned away while keeping his eyes on Deedra, and slipped -- headfirst -- over a Persian rug.

Deedra tried not to laugh until Ali picked himself up and left the room.

"I always tell friends of ours that Ali fell for me the first time he saw me," Deedra says, giggling.

But Deedra refused Ali's courtship.

In Iraq, Ali admits, he was "a bit of a playboy." He had had several girlfriends, but hadn't wanted to settle down. Under Saddam Hussein's control, Iraq was a far more secular country than it is today, and Ali wasn't used to traditional courtship prescribed by Islam -- with a chaperone present -- nor did he spend his time praying, ever.

"I wouldn't give him the time of day until he started praying, and I told him so," Deedra says.

The morning after that conversation, Ali called Deedra to tell her he had prayed for the first time. Soon, he was praying to Allah five times a day.

And now, Deedra says, "He's surpassed me in piety."

They've been married for seven years.


Like most Arizonans, Deedra and Ali Abboud were asleep when the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11, slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center at more than 400 miles per hour on September 11, 2001.

"I was in bed, and my sister called me and told me I needed to turn on the TV," Abboud says. "I got up and turned it on and was like, 'Oh my God.' It looked more like a Hollywood thing."

As soon as the second plane, United Airlines Flight 175, crashed into the south tower, she feared who the culprits might be.

"I hope it wasn't a Muslim," she thought, watching the tragedy unfold with Ali.

She got dressed, put on a headscarf, and went to work, employed in the accounting department of a manufacturing company. She'd recently left her job working for Ali and his brother. "Ali and me and his brother's family all lived together and worked together," Deedra says. "It just was not a good situation not being able to separate work and home."

Shortly after she arrived at work on September 11, the company's human resources manager met with her and, she recalls, told her, "If anyone says anything sideways to you, let me know."

She says, "They didn't know how people might react."

At the time, Abboud was also on the board of directors of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, which was attempting to start an Arizona chapter. Abboud got involved in CAIR because she'd wanted to establish a career and an identity within the Muslim community separate from her husband.

She was politically savvy, with strong communication skills, according to her friend and spiritual adviser, Ahmad Al-Akoum. She had already established contacts with the local media. And, like most converts, she had the enthusiasm and zeal to defend Islam -- and its 3 to 8 million practitioners in America, depending on whom you ask -- at all costs.

So when CAIR looked to hire an Arizona staff, Abboud applied and was hired as the chapter's director.

"Deedra was somebody we saw as already widely respected within the Muslim community," says Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's national spokesman in Washington, D.C.

Of course, it was impossible not to see her for what she was:

A white woman with a seemingly sweet, Southern disposition -- a face for Islam in America that looked nothing like the mug shots of the 19 hijackers.

Yet Hooper says that neither Abboud's race nor her gender had anything to do with her hiring.

"It's always valuable to have people who can relate to the community that you're trying to reach," Hooper says. "But if that assisted her, it was just a side benefit."

CAIR has several women of Middle Eastern and Arab descent in leadership positions within its organization, from national spokeswoman Rabiah Ahmed to chapter directors and board chairs in Texas, northern and southern California, and Ohio.

The Muslim American Society has women in high posts as well, such as its outreach coordinator in Chicago, a regional spokeswoman in Richmond, Virginia, and a new youth board chairman here in Arizona.

 

"The important thing is, we don't have any ceilings for women in the organization," says Madhi Bray, the national director of MAS' Freedom Foundation.

Abboud, as well as her close friend and fellow convert Aneesah Nadir, a professor of social work at Arizona State University's West campus, say that while women are increasingly becoming part of Muslim leadership, white, American converts are not.

"I can think of a few" white American women in leadership positions, Nadir, a black convert of just more than three years, says. She mentions only one -- Ingrid Mattson, the vice president of the Islamic Society of North America -- when asked to name the few. "But as the Muslim population grows, the opportunities for women who are Muslim converts are growing.

"I think the reason for that is that we are seen as bridge-builders," Nadir says. "We can bridge the communication gap and the cultural divide because we live in both worlds."

CAIR is most widely recognized as an organization that cries foul whenever a late-night comic makes a joke about Islam, or if a cop in some rural community harasses a dark-skinned man in a turban.

"CAIR is almost solely about defending Muslims," Abboud says. And to excess, some, like local adversary Zuhdi Jasser (more on him later), would say. The organization sends out close to 50 e-mails a week to national media condemning everything from the FBI's allegedly harassing Muslim students on college campuses to supposed hate crimes directed at Muslims around the country.

Jasser is among those who claim that CAIR clamors too much about the victimization of Muslims, and reserves its harshest condemnations for ranting Islamaphobes rather than those who commit acts of terrorism in the name of Allah.

But put a face like Deedra Abboud's out front, and it's more likely to generate sympathy for Muslims than fear.

And Abboud has been known to play that race card at least once herself.

On the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Daniel Pipes, a self-proclaimed Middle East scholar who advocates racial profiling of Arabs and once was quoted as saying that 15 percent of all Muslims were "potential killers," delivered a lecture at ASU's main campus in Tempe.

Pipes, a Jew, runs his nonprofit think tank, the Middle East Forum, out of Philadelphia, and is in his final year as the director of the federally funded Institute of Peace, having been appointed by President Bush to the position back in 2003.

Before the lecture at ASU, which was attended by dozens of Muslim students as well as Abboud, Pipes, tall and lanky with a finely trimmed beard, had identified CAIR, among other organizations, as representatives of "militant Islam."

At the outset of Pipes' Q&A session, Abboud stood up and asked Pipes why he identified her, specifically, as being representative of extremists. Of course, she didn't mention her support for Palestinians, that she believes "Israel has it better," or her opposition to the war in Iraq.

"How can a Southern girl like me be a supporter of militant Islam?" Abboud asked, rhetorically, grinning bashfully.

She might as well have painted a target on her headscarf.

"They come in all forms," Pipes replied. "Even Southern girls."

Abboud remained seated throughout the rest of the program, without a peep.


Before Deedra Abboud can even ask, the white waitress in the short skirt at central Phoenix's Coronado Café tells her that "there's no pork" in the potato and chicken soup.

"Sometimes, it's not that efficient, but for the most part," Abboud says, "the servers these days know what Muslims can and can't eat."

As she waits for lunch to be served on a recent Thursday afternoon, she answers questions about growing up Southern Baptist, the life of an activist, and the tenets of Islam while she waits to be interviewed by phone for a radio program in Colorado.

Abboud's current bosses in Washington, D.C., where the Muslim American Society (MAS) is based, hand-picked Abboud -- as opposed to the folks who run the Colorado chapter of MAS -- to handle the radio guys, who want answers about the Danish cartoon controversy.

"The MAS chapter in Colorado just isn't very established yet," Abboud says.

That may be true, but Abboud, nevertheless, is being modest.

Before she defected from the Arizona chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations a little more than a year ago as its director, she was asked by chapters in Houston, Dallas, and CAIR's largest chapter in Southern California to consider various positions and stay with the organization.

 

But, Abboud says, she grew tired of speaking out against the likes of Ann Coulter.

Last month, Coulter, the neo-conservative author and pundit, referred to Muslims as "camel jockeys" in a column for United Press Syndicate. CAIR railed against her in a press release within hours of the column's publication.

"My philosophy is, you just don't give those people attention," she says.

So, rather than "expanding my horizons," as she says, by leaving Arizona, she elected to accept a position as the executive director of the Arizona Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation. If CAIR is akin to the NAACP of Muslim advocates, the Freedom Foundation professes to be more like the ACLU, defending the civil liberties of not just Muslims, but all Americans.

(Coulter's "camel jockey" diss, for instance, has sparked zero response from MAS.)

Unlike his counterparts at CAIR, Mahdi Bray, the national director of MAS' Freedom Foundation, admits -- without restraint -- the obvious benefits of having a white female speak on behalf of the "the tens of thousands" of Muslims (but only about 5,000 paying members) that MAS represents.

"I'm a realist," Bray, 56, says during a recent visit with local Muslims in Tempe. "We live in a predominantly white, Christian society. So it's just as advantageous for her to be a white, former Christian woman in this organization as it is for me to have been Christian half of my life."

But at the same time, Bray says the decision to hire Abboud had little, if anything, to do with her race or gender.

"Deedra has been kind of a folk hero here, in speaking out and reaching out to the community," Bray says. "She's a natural-born activist."

Last month, Bray personally asked Abboud to speak at a press conference in Washington on February 6 to help communicate MAS' response to the cartoon controversy. She was the only head of a MAS state chapter invited.

Abboud was sent, by Bray, to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, recently to argue with law enforcement officials that the shooting of an Arab man outside a Middle Eastern restaurant there was racially motivated.

And now, after Bray called her earlier in the week to handle a radio interview with an alt-rock shock DJ who calls himself "Uncle Nasty," Abboud is again the point person.

At lunch, she taps the end of her pen on a memo pad that is scribbled with abbreviated talking points. And when she subtly rolls her eyes, it's clear Abboud is irritated with Uncle Nasty, from Denver station KBPI-FM 106.7, asking her questions about the publication of those cartoons in Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

"I don't think Americans have been given the full context of those cartoons," Abboud tells Uncle Nasty, her voice becoming louder as she tries to speak over the one on the other end of the phone. "I'm not defending the violence. But the editor of the Danish paper wasn't trying to make a point; he was clearly trying to offend people.

"They've really got a Nazi mentality in Europe right now," she says to Nasty, her half-eaten half-sandwich now an afterthought.

She goes on to explain that she's been following the cartoon controversy since the Jyllands-Posten first published the cartoons back in September, long before fundamentalist Muslim imams took the cartoons on a tour of the Middle East and ignited riots and protests early last month. The cartoons depict the Prophet Muhammad, which in itself has offended Muslims; the most widely circulated being one in which Muhammad is wearing a bomb as a turban. Another depicts Muhammad in Heaven turning back extremists, saying, "Stop! Stop! We have run out of virgins!"

Since then, Muslims in the Middle East and Asia have vowed to boycott the Danish government and Danish products. And they've since directed their anger at the United States and its so-called war on terror.

Normally, Abboud says, this wouldn't be the fight she and the Muslim American Society would choose to battle.

"We try to stick with domestic issues," Abboud says.

But, as unofficial representatives of Muslim America, MAS, as well as the Council of American-Islamic Relations, is speaking out about the cartoons.

That's not to say, though, that both organizations -- the largest of their kind in the U.S. -- haven't sought to further their own cause, which mostly focuses on righting discriminatory wrongs against Muslims, such as racial profiling and hate speech, by being willing participants in the cartoon fray.

"I wish I didn't have to deal with this crazy reaction, the violent response," Bray says. "I agree with Deedra on that point.

"But I slightly differ with her as to the importance of the issue. This is rooted in something much deeper than free speech. This is about a backlash against Muslims in Europe, their emigration to Europe, their culture and their faith.

 

"Again, though," Bray adds, "in this business, you find yourself sucked into stuff you wish you didn't have to deal with."

Abboud says she's found herself unwittingly embroiled in the controversy locally. But at the same time, Abboud's been welcoming, if not looking for, a fight over the cartoons.

She's quarreled with a columnist for the East Valley Tribune who advocated that U.S. papers should run the cartoons, and her February 9 e-mail was published in the Arizona Republic.

When ASU's Center for Conflict and Religion hosted a round-table discussion on February 15 -- "The Danish Cartoon Crisis: Perspectives on the Global Controversy" -- Abboud was upset that just one Muslim was on the panel, and appeared to be even angrier that she, as the director of Arizona's MAS, wasn't personally invited. (The panel was all ASU faculty, which Abboud is not.) After e-mailing ASU to voice her displeasure, she showed up at the discussion, but had nothing but positive things to say to and about the panel.

She's also drawn the ire of Bill Straus, the regional director of the local office of the Anti-Defamation League, who believes many Muslims are being hypocrites on the current topic.

"The irony is unbelievable," Straus says at his office in central Phoenix. "For years, the U.S. and various organizations have appealed to the Muslim leadership to do something about the hate and anti-Semitism smeared every day in Middle Eastern and Arab newspapers. And you know what the defense has been? 'We don't interfere with the freedom of the press.'

"Now, for Muslims to be outraged?" Straus asks. "It's hard to escape the irony."

Surprisingly, Abboud agrees.

"Bill's right," she says. "It is hypocritical."

Even more surprising -- as Muslim protesters in Turkey, Libya and Syria torch American, Danish and Italian embassies in response to the cartoons -- Abboud says she's indifferent.

"I really don't care about this whole thing," she says. "There are so many more important things for us to do in Washington, D.C., than have to hold a press conference about cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be unto him.

"I'm offended, yes," she adds. "I'm just not as outraged as everyone else seems to be."

But Straus believes she should be, just as much about anti-Muslim cartoons as those he believes are anti-Semitic -- like the one of Adolf Hitler in bed with Anne Frank, Ariel Sharon eating a bowl of bloody Palestinian children, and a Hasidic Jew helping an Israeli soldier desecrate the Koran.

"I've been disappointed in Deedra when the chips were down," Straus says. "And I think that's because I've seen her being very careful about where she comes down on some issues. I mean, is she anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, anti-American?

"I'd really like to know. Hopefully, I'll get those answers someday," Straus says. "Deedra is rather enigmatic to me. Not many people are."


The Muslim American Society, Abboud contends, goes beyond "just defending Muslims."

"We have Cub Scout troops and Girl Scouts," she says. "We try to educate Muslim youth about what the Koran really says, to make sure they interpret the Koran the right way."

It's a point Abboud emphasizes as often as possible, given that critics of both CAIR and MAS have labeled the organizations as apologists for terrorists.

The Chicago Tribune, in a September 2004 exposé of the Muslim Brotherhood, allegedly founded by fundamentalist Muslim clerics, linked the organization to MAS as its precursor, and reported that the goal of the organization -- which operated in secrecy throughout most of the 1990s -- was to found an Islamic state.

Abboud says that while there may have been members of the Muslim Brotherhood involved in MAS' beginnings, there are none today, and she herself isn't in cahoots with the Brotherhood, either.

"All that is just stuff to scare people," she says.

Nevertheless, local critics like the ADL's Straus and Zuhdi Jasser, a local Muslim doctor and chairman of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, don't trust Abboud or the organizations she represents.

"I've seen Deedra as a very methodical, very deliberate person in her behavior," Straus says. "With that said, Deedra has always been very cordial to me. I don't think we've ever spoken a harsh word to one another.

"But I find myself often wondering on whose side she stands."

Straus says he first began to wonder around September 11, 2001.

Shortly after the attacks, Jasser, a more hawkish Muslim who frequently writes columns for the Arizona Republic's editorial pages and is close with Straus, organized a "Muslims Against Terror" rally in downtown Phoenix.

 

According to Abboud, the rally was planned before Jasser or anyone from his organization consulted CAIR, for whom Abboud was working at the time.

"We were told that we could attend the rally, that we were wanted at the rally," Abboud says, "and that the imams could speak at the rally -- but nothing beyond simply denouncing terrorism or their microphones would be shut off -- and that no one from CAIR could speak.

"First of all, it's unfortunate there's a group of people rallying around Jasser as the leader of the community in the first place," Abboud continues. "To rally behind a man that is not representative of the community makes no sense to me. And then to keep the imams from speaking? I have never known any imams here to do extremist things."

According to Jasser, the rules were meant as nothing personal. They were a reflection of what he sees as the biggest problem within the Muslim-American community:

Victimization.

"I truly believe that Deedra is well-intended," Jasser says. "But I believe that the continual focus of the organizations she has worked for, being the victimization of Muslims rather than correcting the hypocrisy and correct the belief system of many Muslims, does us no good."

Abboud says she agrees with Jasser as well.

"But what is Jasser doing to change it?" she says. "Nothing."


There are two things Deedra Abboud is unlikely to do any time soon: have kids or run for office. Given her bio, you'd think she'd do both. But unlike devout Catholics and Jews, Muslims are under no obligation to be fruitful and multiply.

Abboud says that she wants children more than Ali does. Her Muslim friends are constantly asking when she and Ali will have kids. But she never has an answer.

"It's not anything the Koran says, that Muslims should have gobs of children," she says. "But almost all of our friends do."

Nevertheless, her career is too important at this point to devote her life to children.

Ali agrees.

"Kids take up too much time. I don't want either of us staying home every day with kids," he says. "I want to travel, I want to be free of all that with my wife, you know?"

Who has time for travel? Deedra is active with several community organizations -- as a board member with the Tempe Community Action Agency and the Arizona Coalition for Migrant Rights, as a member of the Arizona Interfaith Network and the Phoenix Police Advisory Board, as well as the Tempe mosque.

It's no wonder that, with a résumé like hers, Eleanor Eisenberg, the former executive director of the Arizona ACLU, asked Deedra Abboud to run for office a couple of years ago. But Abboud refused.

Instead, she's tried to persuade Ali that he should return to Iraq and seek political office. She would, of course, have to leave MAS behind and go with him. But, she says, the "political game" is not one Ali is suited for.

"The chances of me becoming the first lady of Iraq are slim, to say the least," she says.

However slim those chances are, it's likely she'd still be the lightning rod she is locally, in any capacity -- as the wife of a head of state, or as an activist. And that goes far deeper than the color of her skin or her gender.

"I think that even if I weren't white and weren't a woman, but had the same personality," she says, "I would have the same effect."


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