Bigotry is so hard to resist

Too frequently, I receive forwarded chain emails discussing warped ideals and attitudes about what it is to be “American,” as if, somehow, the real definition is exclusive and narrow and, despite the hate filled language, somehow fundamentally Christian.

Among the latest, the horror over appointments within the Department of Homeland Security of “devout Muslims.” (In truth the appointments date back to mid-summer but chain emails of this nature have a troublesome nature: They show up time and time again.)

History calls us back to World War II, when we unleashed official bigotry on Japanese Americans. Opinion of Japanese Americans turned slowly as bigotry was fed by the demonizing propaganda images of Japanese armed forces.

By mid-war, Japanese Americans were fighting with extreme honor in US units, largely in Europe but also in China. On September 29, 1943 baseball star Shigeo "Joe" Takata is the first member of the 100th Infantry Battalion to be killed in action and the first to receive the Distinguished Service Cross.

Following the war, President Harry Truman honored Japanese Americans, noting that they not only fought the enemy but prejudice as well, and won on both fronts.

On August 10, 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed H.R.442, providing an official apology for the government’s WWII incarceration of Japanese Americans and compensation payments to surviving internees.

So, this question about “the horror” of Muslims working in the Department of Homeland Security raised questions in my mind. How many Americans of Muslim faith have died in service to the country since 9/11?

In 2006, the Christian Science Monitor put the figure of Muslims in US military service at 3,386 by Pentagon figures and 15,000 by other interest groups. In an interesting counterpoint, and a lesson learned from the treatment of Japanese, the article discusses how the US military is reaching out to Muslims and appealing for their service. Former President George W. Bush regularly held an iftar, the feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

My quick and cursory search found no hard numbers about how many Muslims have given their lives for the US cause and for their fellow soldiers. I did find this moving piece, published by by: Shahed Amanullah at beliefnet.

By now, many of you have heard General Colin Powell’s recounting of the sacrifice that Muslim-American soldier Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan made for the country of his birth, and how a photo of Khan’s mother draped over her son’s tombstone at Arlington Cemetery moved him to speak out against the demonization of Muslim-Americans among some in the Republican party.

For many Americans, this may have been the first time they’ve heard of a Muslim-American soldier dying in the battlefield.  But the truth is that Muslims have had a long history of serving in the US armed forces.  And according to the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, there are currently 20,000 Muslims serving with honor in the US military.

Wander through Arlington Cemetery, as I’ve done, and you’ll see the crescents among the crosses, adorning graves of soldiers like Army Captain Humayun Khan, who lured a suicide car bomb away from the men in his charge, saving their lives but giving up his own, Army Spc. Rasheed Sahib, an American Muslim from Guyana, Army Spc. Omead Razani, a son of Iranian immigrants, Marine Staff Sgt. Kendall Damon Waters-Bey, who was killed in a helicopter crash, and sadly many more. (Read the full article here.)

So, my answer to those who forward their horror over Muslim’s in the Department of Homeland Security, I ask this:

Walk up to the homes of Kareem Khan, Humayun Kahn, Rasheed Sahib, Omead Razani or Kendall Waters-Bey. Express your concerns to their mothers face to face. No? I didn’t think so.

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