If confirmed, Dilawar Syed will become the highest-ranking Muslim-American official in history. Why won’t Republicans allow a vote?

9 June 2015; Dilawar Syed during day two of the conference. EnterConf 2015, T13, Titanic Quarter, Belfast. Picture credit: Mark Marlow / SPORTSFILE.

Successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur Dilawar Syed is the quintessential American success story.

As a nation, if we were to elect a poster-child for American exceptionalism, Dilawar Syed would be the perfect candidate.

“American exceptionalism” gets a bad rap, perhaps undeservedly. The ideal may have been coopted by nationalists, but we shouldn’t let them have it without a fight.

American exceptionalism isn’t an argument for bigotry, white supremacy, or even nationalism. American exceptionalism is perhaps the best argument against those things.

You don’t have to be born in America to be a sterling example of American exceptionalism; on the contrary. Plenty of truly exceptional contributors to the U.S. have hailed from other nations. Exceptional Americans have arrived from all walks of life, every conceivable background and ethnicity.

In America, if nowhere else, a young man from Pakistan like Dilawar Syed can arrive on a student visa, receive a first-class education surrounded by the corn fields of the mid-west, move to California and take Silicon Valley by storm.

Dilawar Syed came to America with a dream shared by many others; that of starting a businesses, building a company, of becoming the next big IPO. What is so exceptional about American exceptionalism isn’t who is excludes, but who it includes, which is anyone.

America isn’t perfect; far from it. Immigrants to the U.S. still face plenty of unique obstacles to their success- discrimination, racism, bigotry, stereotyping and worse.

For all its faults, people from every nation on earth still immigrate to America every year- just as they always have. With this group of talented, driven individuals, has come awe-inspiring ideas, inspired inventions, and innovations which have given the modern world everything from the internal combustion engine to the pentium processor.

American job creators who arrived from other shores have added billions of exceptional dollars to the GDP over the decades.

In a perfect world, the U.S. immigration system would be revised immediately to proactively capitalize on the vast global resource of untapped people potential. We should be making it easier, not harder, for inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs to bring their ideas and talents to the U.S.

As it is, tying the immigration process to employment is one of the many ways in which the U.S. immigration system isn’t serving the country’s best interests. Other countries not as short sighted, though not as long on candidates, are making it easier for tech start-ups in particular to flourish.

Even so, it isn’t hard to understand why entrepreneurs would want to come to America. It has long been a proving ground for upstarts and small businesses that grow into household names.

Nor is it hard to understand why the U.S. government would create an agency like the Small Business Administration. Investing in small businesses makes sense. Investing in historically underserved and economically disadvantaged communities in particular makes even more sense.

Innovators and entrepreneurs from these demographics often face a steeper climb, without as many footholds left by previous success stories. Blazing a trail is, after all, considerably harder than following one.

In small businesses as in science, the activation energy required to start something is greater than the energy needed to keep it going.

Activation energy is perhaps what the Small Business Administration does best- and there has never been a greater need for it. The challenges businesses faced post-2008 pale in comparison to the ones they face now. Keeping small businesses afloat into 2022 is probably going to require nearly as much energy as it took to get them off the ground in the first place.

If there ever was a time for the SBA, it’s now; when the next Apple, Amazon and Nike might be on the brink of failure, sagging under the crushing weight of COVID-19.

Small businesses need the SBA; the SBA needs a full leadership roster in order to ensure COVID-19 relief funds reach small business owners. Yet, in spite of having a well-qualified, bona fide American entrepreneurial success story in Dilawar Syed- Republicans have refused to even countenance a vote on the matter for 8 months.

Their objections to Dilawar Syed haven’t been about his story- which is the American dream-come-true. Who better for the SBA than a young student from Pakistan who worked and studied hard, and eventually rose to Silicon Valley prominence?

Their objections haven’t been about his qualifications, either.

Over the past decades, in tandem with building his own businesses, Dilawar Syed has done a great deal to help small businesses grow around him. From the economically disadvantaged rural areas of California to underserved minority business communities in the inner cities, Mr. Syed has worked hard- through the California Governor’s office, with the Obama Administration, and through his own volunteer efforts- to support small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Whether it was the post-2008 recession crunch, or the 2020/2021 global pandemic threatening their livelihoods, Dilawar Syed has proven himself dedicated to helping entrepreneurs like himself.

Thanks to the efforts of Mr. Syed, and others like him, the Small Business Administration has done some truly excellent work over the years. Without help from the SBA, companies like Chobani and Costco might not exist today.

So, if the objections of Senate Republicans to Dilawar Syed aren’t due to his history, or to his qualifications, we are left with the age-old question:


Rather than focus on Mr. Syed’s qualifications or qualities, Republican Senators have instead injected divisive, hot-button cultural issues into the equation, invoking every specter from anti-Israel bias to abortion.


The most charitable explanation for this blockade- and for Senate Republicans taking the extraordinary step of refusing to show up for the confirmation hearing on five occasions- is petty obstructionism.

That Republican Senators are ideologically opposed to the very idea of the SBA is understandable; ideological and policy disagreements are why we have two parties instead of one.

Preventing the confirmation process from even moving forward, leaving a major gap in leadership at the SBA and hurting small businesses, has become indefensible.

Because there is a far less charitable explanation for the refusal of Republican Senators to vote on Dilawar Syed. Accusations of religious discrimination are coming in from all quarters, including a resounding rebuke from the Jewish community- a community not unfamiliar with religious discrimination.

Dilawar Syed has garnered much support for his nomination, from an incredibly wide variety of individuals, communities and organizations.

It is difficult to recognize the party of Abraham Lincoln in the actions of Senate Republicans who are refusing to do their jobs with regards to the nomination of Mr. Syed.

This is America; we don’t impose religious or loyalty tests on candidates for public service.

Or do we?

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)