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.

In fact,
you’ll find the graves of fallen Muslim soldiers and Muslim veterans in
military cemeteries all over the United States, from Hassein Ahmed
(Army, WWII) to Ibrahim Muhammad (Navy, WWII), from Mahir Hasan (Army,
Korea) to Abul Fateh Umar Khan (Air Force, Korea).

This is part of the history and reality of Muslims in this country, and it flies in the face of some McCain supporters (though thankfully not all) who warn of Muslims gaining undue influence and stature under an Obama administration.  The fact that up to 10% of voters still believe that Obama is a Muslim (despite the Rev. Wright debacle and over a year of clarifications in the media) or “an Arab” underscores just how embedded the idea is that Muslims are still alien to all that America stands for.

It also flies in the face of McCain’s own words.  “I’m proud of the Muslims who are currently serving in the United States armed forces,” he said when asked about the possibility of having a Muslim cabinet member, “and my sense is that if they can serve in that manner, they can serve in any position of responsibility in America.”

Perhaps the now-famous photo of Corporal Khan’s mother can help soften some hearts on the other side of the political fence.  I wonder, though, how many dead Muslim solidiers it will take for them to realize that loyalty to country is the norm among Muslim-Americans, and not the exception.

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