Richmond’s rich biking hub potential

By Ibrahim Abdul-Matin

From September 19 to September 27 in Richmond, Virginia, one thousand of the world’s top cyclists will compete in the 2015 Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) Road World Championships, affectionately known as #Richmond2015. This is the first time in 30 years the race is being held in the USA. The riders are competing on behalf of their countries (as opposed to their sponsored teams like in the Tour de France).  Seventy-five countries are represented this year and the City of Richmond estimates a crowd of 450,000 people from all over the globe coming to watch and cheer.

Sporting events often claim that they will positively impact their host cities. Job creation, tourism, and media coverage are a few of the things touted by planning committees.  But, most often, what’s left behind are the ghosts of great achievements, crumbling stadiums, and in some cases (especially the Olympics), displaced populations and destroyed communities.  There is a hope however that #Richmond2015 will leave a beneficial lasting impression on this small southern city.

Richmond is famous for a lot of reasons.  It was the capital of the Confederate South during the US’ Civil War.  At about the same time, Richmond developed into a hub of the tobacco industry, leading the country’s tobacco planting, harvest, and cigarette production. Philip Morris (known today as Altria) has its headquarters in town.

In the sports world, Richmond is known as the birthplace and home of the legendary Arthur Ashe, the Black American pioneer of professional tennis.  The city’s athletic center bears his name. A more contemporary Richmond connection is to Russell Wilson, the star quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks.  Wilson grew up in Richmond and attended the famous Collegiate Prepatory High School.  The Richmond International Raceway hosts NASCAR’s Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series races.   Still, there are no professional sports teams that call Richmond home, though it is home to the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Rams – the men’s basketball team that shined under star former coach Shaka Smart who took the Rams to the Atlantic 10 and the Final Four championships.

Richmond earned the bid for this year’s UCI Road World Championships four years ago.  Meanwhile, the cycling movement has flourished.

Ali Faruk, a Richmond resident, explains.  “There is a dedicated biking community in Richmond.  There have been a lot of people biking in the city out of economic necessity.”

Previously, these bike riders received little attention.  #Richmond2015, has started conversations about biker safety that is benefiting all people, whether racers or everyday riders.  “Now that other people are interested in biking, the city added a lot of bike paths,” says Faruk.

Since Richmond’s landscape was built in a pre-car era, it has the backbones of a bike-friendly city.  While the expansion of VCU and the transfer of Fortune 500 companies post-2008 recession has increased the number of cars and intensified the area’s car culture, there are still plenty of people who bike including college students, hipsters, and low-income folks who cannot afford a car.  Before #Richmond2015, there was a clash of car and bike cultures.  Because of #Richmond2015, the city and its residents are emphatically discussing how bikers and drivers can safely coexist.

Unlike Olympic stadiums that are rarely used after the games, Richmond has the opportunity to make the new bike paths constructed for the race a central part of the city’s infrastructure. Richmond could use this opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the country’s bike friendliest cities including Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Portland and emphasize safety, sustainability, and coexistence.  I’ll be honest – compared to its confederate capital and tobacco hub identities, the potential of becoming a southern “Bike Capitol” seems exciting, fitting, and a far better alternative.

Editor’s Note: Ibrahim Abdul-Matin has worked in the civic, public, and private sectors and on several issues including sustainability, technology, community engagement, sports, and new media. He is the author of Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet and contributor to All-American: 45 American Men On Being Muslim. From 2009 to 2011 Ibrahim was the regular Sports Contributor for WNYC’s nationally syndicated show The Takeaway. Follow him on twitter @IbrahimSalih. The views expressed here are his own.

Omar Samhan: A Big Fish Seeks a Bigger Pond

By Parvez Fatteh, Founder of,

omar-samhan Omar Samhan has always been a man amongst boys. At 6 foot 11 inches, he sticks out even on a college campus. But, as a basketball star for St. Mary’s University, he sticks out even more. And as a Muslim-American now in the national spotlight, there is no ignoring him.

Samhan grew up in San Ramon, CA, only minutes from the St. Mary’s campus. He is the son of an Egyptian father and an Irish mother. And he is also a Muslim student at a Catholic university, not to mention a basketball player with heritage from a country where soccer rules all sports. The paradoxes abound with Omar (not the least of which is his pre-game ritual of listening to the music of teeny-bopper Taylor Swift, as reported to Sports Illustrated!).

But when it comes to his game, everything is straightforward. writes, “Few players at the college level boast Samhan’s combination of touch and post instincts.” describes him as “…A late bloomer that has shown steady development throughout his college career.” The other teams in the NCAA Tournament found this out first hand, as he put up 29 points and 32 points respectively, against higher-seeded Richmond and Villanova. And he’s no slouch on the defensive end either, as he was voted the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Omar Samhan will spend the next few weeks helping NBA scouts figure out his pro potential. But Omar, a graduating senior, seems to have already figured out how to accomplish what his fellow Arab-American, radio personality Casey Kasem always preached, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”


Negotiating with the Taliban?

“Sleeping” with the Enemy”

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Differences Between the U.S., Afghani and Indian Governments

Point Isabel, Point Richmond (Calif.)–Your author is taking his subtitle from a less than notable American film of several years ago to finish up his report on the recent Indian Ambassador to Kabul’s comments , Gautam Mukhopadhaya.

At the moment your reporter finds himself at a lovely promontory pointing into San Francisco Bay, and it seems strange to be considering so many matters so far away that I begun two weeks ago from Berkeley.  At that time I decided to divide the presentation into two parts because of its length.

Mukhopadhaya continued on how the political position amongst the American voters regarding Afghanistan was shifting away from support to criticism of official military policy in the Hindu Kush.  Therefore, the District of Columbia had to change its tactics in response.

Pakistan operates in this War as it perceives to its own interests.  Thus, the Ambassador deems that NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s) allies in the Hindu Kush consider Rawalpindi to be unreliable — which is far from the truth in your writer’s opinion. 

Both the U.S. and Pakistan are targeting the Taliban, (but Islamabad only considers one branch of the Taliban to be hostile to their interests.  The other four branches – which are within their territory, too – they do not consider a threat, and all these parties are comparatively accommodating to the other – including Pakistan.  Up to 80% of the Pakistani Taliban resides in the federally administered Northwest Provinces.)

The Americans and Pakistani Armies mutually oppose one “clan” of Taliban, and they are fully within Islamabad’s Federally Administered Territories.  Thus, Peshawar sees no threat to their survival from the Afghani Taliban. 

Further, Washington sees no alternative to the Karzai government that the District of Columbia (D.C.) perceives as militarily undependable.  At the same time, the U.S. Administration comprehends Kazai’s Presidency to be a corruptible one – an uneasy alliance to say the least! 

In the London Conference on the Afghani conflict last January (2010), the European and Canadian allies supported the “Afghanization” of the War and the “regularization” (normalization) of our relations with the Taliban!  This, hopefully, would lead to meaningful discussions and, eventually, peace within the Mountains!  These talks should be mutually respectful between each party – including the Taliban.

At same time, the Indian representative from New Delhi’s Department of External Affairs had to take a dig at their traditional competitors:  “We need leadership from the Pakistanis!”  (This struggle beyond the Khyber is an opportunity to bring these two South Asian nuclear neighbors closer together instead of tearing them further apart to the dangerous detriment to all!)  His Excellency accused D.C. of a failure of leadership during this international crisis.  To settle the military security, he urged U.S.-Pakistan operations.  (Of course, the loss of Islamabad’s national sovereignty would be totally unacceptable to its Muslim citizenry, and put the security of Pakistan’s topography under question for its Western and regional allies!)  Simultaneously, the Saudis close allies to both, are working with Islamabad and Washington to bring their policies closer together.

On the other hand, the Taliban itself is fed-up.  The London Conference approved the Taliban’s grasp of the countryside while NATO and the Afghani government would occupy the cities.  This is not the battle plan of these “Students.”  They wish to hold the total fasces within the dry, cold hills, and their mindset is far from compromise at this time.

Yet the Americans presume that they have an upper hand, and, correspondingly, are in the position of strength to negotiate with their adversaries.  Actually, it is the Pakistanis who are central for negotiating with the problem some Quetta branch of the Talibani. The Pakistani Army has already begun to begin dialogue in Baluchistan.  Rawalpindi considers it has made some progress, and the Generals at their Military Headquarters are encouraged by their discourse with the irregular tribesmen.

The U.S.A. has been following a contradictory policy in the Af-Pak itself.  While D.C. has been throwing development funds in Southern Afghanistan, it has been shoring up the military on the frontlines in Pakistan.

Ultimately, though, Ambassador Maukapadya does not discern a desire by the Taliban to parley.  In the late 1990s, the Taliban regime in Kabul led the U.S. on their intentions.  (Your essayist has some questions about this, and that is His Excellency is not separating the goals of a Nationalist Taliban and an Internationalist Al’Quaeda.)  Would the Taliban be willing to form a coalition government with Karzai or whoever may succeed him (them)?  (Whatever, a re-establishment of the regime of the 1990s is totally unacceptable to International Civil Society without the checks and balances of the partnership of all Afghani peoples and tribes!)  The Ambassador is “…not optimistic.” 

There is preparation for a major NATO assault upon the Taliban stronghold around the southern city of Kandahar, the center of Talibani power.  Maukapadya  does not feel the battle will turn the War around.

Concurrently, Europe and North America and their regional associates are employing dual strategies against the Taliban who are replying in kind.  This War is far from coming to a mutually acceptable denouement.