One Man's Crusade to Set the Media Straight
SALEM MIRAYATI is a young L.A. mover and shaker. On any given day amid the palms and glitterati he might powwow with filmmaker Spike Lee or basketball phenom Hakeem Olajuwon.
Mr. Mirayati is also a leading voice among a coming generation of California Muslims bent on changing their image as mysterious outsiders who live in the shadow of American life. Among other things, Mirayati is helping shape one of the first domestic political agendas for Muslims in the 1996 elections. "We need to move from signing petitions to getting our agenda passed," he argues. That agenda includes addressing spousal abuse, parental rights, and gang violence on the home front - and human rights violations abroad.
Raised in the ethnic kaleidoscope of L.A. and trained as a biochemical engineer, Mirayati in 1988 founded the Muslim Public Affairs Council. The local mosques, he felt, were not addressing an enormous media misunderstanding of the Palestinian intifadah, what Islam is, and who California's half-million Muslims are.
"We were getting excluded from a debate about our own religion," he says from a small office in a downtown neighborhood with billboards lit in Spanish and Korean.
A great deal of Mirayati's job is simply making connections. To that end, he schmoozes at white-tablecloth business lunches for Muslim professionals, drafts opinion pieces on Bosnia for newspapers like the San Jose Mercury News, and sets up meetings with the influential. He lunched recently with ABC news anchor Peter Jennings, where the two discussed coverage of Islamic issues. Later, he met with NBC and CBS producers.
After the Oklahoma City bombing, Mirayati and two colleagues met on Capitol Hill with California congressmen to discuss the poor understanding that US officials have of American Muslims and their Islamic faith.
"To be honest, if we could just get a presidential candidate to say it was time to stop demonizing Muslims, it would be a major step," Mirayati sighs.