Leonard Pitts column: Muslim-Americans who serve their country

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 12, 2009

A sampling from the Web: “Why are these Muslim invaders allowed to carry on freely in this country … protected by outreach, Obama, and PC mental illness?” “Simply put, most Muslims in non-Islamic countries have an evil axe to grind and a scurrilous hidden agenda.” “Muslims should be deported from this country! They offer nothing to Americans!”
This outburst of vituperation from message boards and bloggers is, of course, traceable to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist and American Muslim accused of shooting 13 people dead and wounding 29 others in a rampage last week at Fort Hood, Texas. At this writing, we know next to nothing of why he did it.
Maybe he was a stone cold psychopath like Eric Harris who, with Dylan Klebold, shot up Columbine High in 1999.
Maybe he was deranged and delusional like Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people and himself at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Maybe he was driven by a grudge against the federal government like Timothy McVeigh, who blew up a federal building in 1995.
Maybe he was a terrorist.
Predictably, it is the last possibility that has ignited outrage and condemnation from the usual speak-first, think-later types, employing the usual sweeping half-truths and untruths to argue that Muslims are un-American and contribute nothing to this country.
One wonders what they would say, then, to Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, U.S. Army, Muslim, American, killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
Or to Spec. Rasheed Sahib, U.S. Army, Muslim, American, accidentally shot to death by a fellow soldier in Iraq. Or to Maj. James Ahearn, U.S. Army, Muslim, American, killed by a bomb in Iraq. Or to Cpt. Humayun Khan, U.S. Army, Muslim, American, killed when he approached a suicide bomber in Iraq.
Would they continue in loud ignorance? Or would they simply, finally, shut up? The latter is probably too much to hope: The majority is often eager to stamp the minority with the worst actions of its worst members. The minority is left to wonder why only its worst are judged emblematic, while its best are forgotten or ignored.
So it is for Muslims, now, sacrifices and service unremembered and unremarked.
If you study the list of recent American casualties, you find names redolent of every other place on Earth, names that smell of Scottish highlands and Korean marketplaces, Yemeni ports and Nigerian mosques, Russian steppes and Mexican farms. All of them choosing to make their lives here in the land of burger joints, rap music and amber waves of grain … a land where, it is boasted, a man is not his past, a man is not his culture, a man is not his tribe. A man is a man.
It is an ideal never fully realized and yet, an ideal soldiers with names from every other place on Earth sign up every day to defend. That ought to tell you something. It ought to make you proud.
And it ought to leave you impatient with the shrill, intolerant voices that would have us believe Nidal Malik Hasan is every Muslim in America.
For what it’s worth, those same voices sang out when Japanese-American soldiers left internment camps to fight for freedom. And when African-American soldiers went abroad to defend democracy, then came home and were lynched still wearing their uniforms.
The story is told of a black woman who refused to salute the American flag and scorned her father, a veteran, because he did. Finally he explained: He did not stand to honor the nation as it was, but the nation as it could be if only it embraced its own ideals.
One suspects his reasoning would resonate today with the Muslim-American soldier walking his post in the wake of the shooting at Fort Hood. He stands up for his country.
Let us hope his country will do the same for him.
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Leonard Pitts is a Miami Herald columnist. Contact him at lpitts@miamiherald.com.