So it's come to this. In the wake of the Parliament shooting in Ottawa and the hatchet attack on police officers in New York, some in the GOP and its amen corner are calling for draconian measures against American Muslims and their places of worship. "We have to go all-out with surveillance," New York Congressman Peter King declared, "to find out what's going on in the mosques which are often incubators of this type of terrorism." Former Florida Republican Congressman Allen West went further, demanding of mosques and their leaders, "we gotta shut 'em down" and deport their imams.
It is especially at times like these that the Party of Lincoln needs to take the wisdom of its namesake to heart. In August 1863, months before he used the Gettysburg Address to declare America "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal," Abraham Lincoln defended his Emancipation Proclamation as inextricably linked to the preservation of the Union. Noting reports from some of his commanders that "the emancipation policy, and use of colored troops, constitute the heaviest blow yet dealt to the rebellion," Lincoln reminded his critics:
"You say you will not fight to free the negroes. Some of them seem willing to fight for you."
One hundred and fifty years later, all Americans should once again take the 16th President's words to heart. Right now, thousands of American Muslims, a group of roughly 1.5 million constituting only half of one percent of the adult population, seem willing to fight for you.
As the Wall Street Journal reported in 2009 (see chart above):
The military has worked hard to recruit more Muslims since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the number of Muslim troops, while still small, has been increasing. There were 3,409 Muslims in the active-duty military as of April 2008, according to Pentagon statistics.
Military personnel don't have to disclose their religions, and many officials believe the actual number of Muslim soldiers may be at least 10,000 higher than the Pentagon statistics.
Compared to their percentages of the U.S. population, Muslims are enlisting at higher rates than, say, Jews or Mormons, the latter members of the fastest growing religion in America.
American followers of Islam aren't just fighting for their country; they are dying for it, too. A Google image search for Muslim headstones at Arlington National Cemetery shows many Muslim heroes who gave all, including Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. In 2008, former Joint Chiefs Chairman and Secretary of State Colin Powell eulogized Khan after seeing the heartbreaking New Yorker image of his mother at his grave:
As the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone, and it gave his awards - Purple Heart, Bronze Star - showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death, he was 20 years old. And then at the very top of the head stone, it didn't have a Christian cross. It didn't have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith.
And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan. And he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life."
Just like countless other of our friends and neighbors in Detroit and Houston, Cedar Rapids and Peoria. (To learn more about them, the Rev. Dr. Carol M. Flett, Interfaith Programs Coordinator at the Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. suggests reading by Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam by Dr. Akbar Ahmed.) Other Muslims have put their lives at risk by serving--and saving--American military units as translators in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sadly, the America that has known internment, harassment and paranoia is subjecting its Muslim citizens to more of the same. As the ACLU has documented, mosques across the country have subject by vandalism, arson and other attacks ever since September 11, 2001:
And yet Americans Muslims, like their fellow Americans of every (and no) religion, accepted to call to come to their nation's defense. Perhaps it is because if America stands for anything, it is the dignity, equality and freedom which accompany the universal emancipation of the human spirit. If there is not religious liberty for all in the United States, there will liberty for none. Or as President Lincoln wrote of the African-American troops who would play a decisive role in saving the Union and with it "the last best hope of earth":
"If they stake their lives for us, they must be prompted by the strongest motive -- even the promise of freedom. And the promise being made, must be kept."