Almost two decades after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the United States is still at war in Afghanistan. As our administration negotiates with the Taliban for a political settlement, America continues to lose brave men and women who make the ultimate sacrifice for our great country.
In all, 2,372 U.S. service members have made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan; 4,424 in Iraq; and 86 service members along with two U.S. Department of Defense civilians in Operation Inherent Resolve, the campaign to defeat ISIS, and still many more in other locations, including Africa. The cost has been felt in all corners of our society.
As an Army reserve officer, a former counterterrorism prosecutor, the California-born son of Afghan immigrants, and an American Muslim, I have been fortunate to gain the kind of perspective that deepens my gratitude for what this nation has given to so many families like mine and the freedoms all Americans enjoy because of the sacrifice of our service members.
Today, young Americans who join our armed forces will be deployed in response to attacks that took place before they were born. Many of these young Americans are Muslim or of Muslim descent. I know that these young patriots join our military because they want to defend America. These are dedicated Americans. Fearless Americans. Concerned Americans who want to fight for our freedom everywhere. And each young American Muslim who joins adds his name as a link in a chain of Americans in service to our great nation – dating back to the Revolutionary War.
Muslims helped the 13 colonies wrest their freedom from the Redcoats. Peter Salem, believed to have been Muslim, was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Salem served in the 4th Continental Regiment and Col. John Nixon’s 6th Massachusetts Regiment. He fought in the Battles of Bunker Hill, Saratoga and Stony Point, where the Continental Army initiated a night attack and defeated British troops under the command of Brig. Gen. “Mad Anthony” Wayne.
Approximately 300 Muslims signed up to serve with the Union in the Civil War. Osman Moses served with the 104th Regiment of the Illinois Infantry. He rose to the rank of captain, becoming the highest ranking American Muslim service member at the time. In World War II, the tradition continued. After the war, due to the work of service member Abdullah Igram, Islam was added as an option for religious affiliations that could be officially registered in the military and listed on dog tags. More than 6,000 American Muslims have been deployed in support of counter-terrorism operations since 9/11, resulting in several killed in action so that freedom thrives for all in this generation and the ones to follow.
But you don’t need to open a history book to see that American Muslims play an integral role in defending our country. In Afghanistan, I served as a Department of Defense civilian alongside people of all backgrounds and religions, united only by our common belief in the values of the United States.
These young patriots join our military because they want to defend America. These are dedicated Americans. Fearless Americans.
Our military reflects the diversity of our nation. Many outside the national security institutions and the military, unfortunately, focus on the differences. My experience in national security positions was one of seamless unity and camaraderie. American Muslims, like all other Americans, have contributed to the effort to secure and protect liberty, and of course we seek no special recognition for that work. Highlighting the history of American Muslims in service to our nation is not to seek special recognition, but rather the opposite. We American Muslims are American. Period. Like others, American Muslims raise their hands to serve as Americans, to defend America.
American Muslims have been part of America since its birth and will forever be a part of this nation.
Yet, despite our long history of serving alongside our fellow Americans in defense of our great country, our history is often overshadowed by radical Islam and by anti-Muslim bigotry in the United States.
According to Pew, more than half of Americans admit they have never met a Muslim, but that has not prevented more than half from seeing us an “anti-American” bloc. Anti-American messaging from extreme though prominent American Muslim figures reaches Americans everywhere through the internet. The threat of radical Islam and the ideology of extremism is at work to indoctrinate our communities.
Meanwhile, nine out of 10 American Muslims self-describe as proud Americans, and they overwhelmingly reject extremism and reject the prominent national figures who purport to represent us. The critical mass of American Muslims have diversity of thought, but also lack a positive alternative in the form of a prominent national platform to plug into the national discourse, finding themselves with the choice of participating in largely negative organizations or being relegated to the comments sections of social media.
Fighting these misimpressions certainly requires patriotic American Muslims to find a greater voice. Meanwhile, American Muslims are among those on duty today around the world in defense of our nation. American Muslims are as integral of the American story as any other American. We play critical roles in law enforcement, the military, intelligence community, public service, business, philanthropy and more.
American Muslims who serve our nation bear no attribute beyond being bound to one another by the flag we fly and the flag that is worn on our uniforms. We are bound into the history of our brothers and sisters in arms who have fought for our freedom since the Revolutionary War.
This Veterans Day, as we remember the patriots who paid the ultimate price, and the wounded and missing, I invite you to recognize all Americans in our nation’s history, and all Americans on duty at home and around the world. We honor those in the past who have fought and perished for our freedom and those who have the watch today.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not reflect the policy or positions of the U.S. Army or U.S. Department of Defense.