February 8th, 2007 07:14 PM
Muslims in the U.S. Military
Good story on Muslims in the U.S. Military, and some of the problems they face. Click the title for the original source link.
Military's Muslims Face Scrutiny While Serving the CountryPentagon Works to Improve Relations as Individuals Note Struggles
By GIGI STONE
Feb. 8, 2007 — The roughly 4,000 Muslims currently serving in the armed forces put their lives on the line for their country, but their fellow Americans often call them the enemy.
It plays out from Baghdad to London to the Pentagon, where a chapel was built on the very spot where on Sept. 11, 2001, a plane piloted by terrorists crashed into the building.
Five years later, American Muslims still deal with the repercussions of that attack.
"My tires have [had] nails five or six times, my vehicle got scratched several times. I moved from my location three times," said U.S. Navy Cmdr. Hesham Islam.
He's a high-ranking Pentagon official who emigrated from Egypt and has had to alter his telephone habits because of the backlash.
"Since 9/11, I no longer have a land line," Islam said. "I only work with my cell phone, because I got a lot of hate messages on the phone," he said.
According to a recent ABC News poll, 46 percent of Americans expressed an unfavorable opinion of Islam.
"You get the name calling or the disassociations — are you part of al Qaeda? Do you believe in what they're doing? Are you a terrorist?" said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Kenetta Hamilton.
Hamilton said she's also been called "towel head" or "raghead.
"It has been difficult lately because of everything that's been going on with the war," Hamilton said.
Military Fights Back
Pentagon officials said they are now working to attract and retain more Muslim cadets while increasing awareness of their culture within the military.
Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia opened the Marines' first Islamic prayer center last June. The Marines offer other dispensations to Muslims that allow them to practice their religion, such as exempting them from physical training while they fast during Ramadan.
And Pentagon officials have begun celebrating religious rituals, with Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England hosting the feast at the end of the day during Ramadan at the Army Navy Country Club in Arlington, Va.
The United States needs troops who can speak Arabic, understand Islam and the culture of Middle East nations, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Abuhena Saifulislam.
"We can connect better, there is a trust factor by being a Muslim — usually you are taken on good faith," said Saifulislam.
"It's good, I think, that our nation sees that we have Muslims who are willing to join the United States military to be committed to their faith but also committed to this great nation," said Adm. William Bird.
For Muslim American servicemen it's a double challenge. While they're proud to serve, they recognize the irony in fighting for a country in which some people mistakenly associate them with the enemy.
"We're paratroopers. We're supposed to be surrounded!" Dick Winters
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