Of all of the famous (and often infamous) news stories to emerge from the Republican and Democratic conventions, a speech given by American Muslims Khizr and Gazala Khan seems to have received the most media attention. The speech, like most which were given throughout the conventions, was designed to generate a political reaction. But it also highlighted a very important point: that America's Muslim communities are also sacrificing. Like the freed African Americans who fought in the Civil War, World Wars, and the Cold War, Muslims today are fighting for a country whose people often view them as the enemy. This week, we'll remember those who have proven that being Muslim and being an American are not mutually exclusive.
Today, there are nearly 6,000 active duty military members who self-identify as Muslim. It's nearly impossible to get an accurate count of all Muslim military personnel (since records were not always kept), but historical evidence has shown Muslims serving in America's armed forces dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. More recently, about 3,500 Muslim soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with seven having been killed in action as of 2009. Behind each of these is a family who has experienced devastating loss.
But military service isn't the only way Muslims have contributed to America's defense. Muslims also serve in a variety of positions within the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community. These include interpreters, cultural advisors, analysts, and field agents. In one notable example, FBI analyst and interrogator Ali Soufan directly contributed to America's security by interviewing and extracting information (using his own incentive-based methods rather than violent coercion) which led to the capture of several high-profile terrorists. In the recent trial of several Minnesota men who were convicted of attempting to join ISIS, a Muslim friend of the accused served as an informant. As we have noted before, there are many reasons Muslims do not always speak up when faced with extremism, but the evidence is clear that many of them are actively contributing to America's security.
Finally, we cannot forget the sacrifices of non-American Muslims who have supported America's security. In Iraq, Afghanistan, and all over the region, local leaders, government officials, and allied military members serve as administrators, risk their lives as informers, or fight alongside America's military. These individuals put both themselves and their families at great risk in order to fight in favor of American interests (which have often been aligned with their own interests). This is part of the difficulty of establishing and maintaining allied contacts in placed like Iraq and Afghanistan (since groups like the Taliban always know who has American sympathizers in their families). Without their contribution, any sort of victory or peace would be impossible.
Though America's military endeavors are often controversial (as we have debated many times before), these people have stood up to answer the call anyway. They fight and die for the same country that questions their loyalty and submits them to extra "random" screenings at airports. The job of the soldier is often thankless (just saying "thank you for your service" isn't enough, support veteran's causes instead!), but for them it can be even more so. They fight for the right of others to hate and discriminate against them. It should be noted that this post isn't meant to ignore that a problem of radicalization exists within Muslim communities in America or that mainstream Islam around the world is having a difficult time preventing extremism. These problems exist, and are being directly addressed (and they don't go away just because someone called it "radial Islamic terrorism"). But demonizing Muslims, and by extension those who have sacrificed everything for their country, sends all the wrong messages. The diversity of America's military is what makes (and keeps) America great.