For soldiers, there are many fears. Will I do my job? Will I succeed in my mission? Will my colleagues in arms be harmed? Will I be injured? Will I die? For the American Muslim who volunteers to engage the enemies of the United States on foreign soil, there is a new worry. What will my home country do to my family while I am gone?
Recently, Dr. Ghazali A. Chaudry, MD, FACS, lieutenant colonel and surgeon, United States Army, shipped out to Iraq. There he will work to save the lives of our injured warriors, as well as those of our allies and even, at times, those against whom we struggle. He will take months away from his practice and career. He will leave behind his community. He will risk his life for our country … for each of us.
Dr. Chaudry has young children, family, and friends, entrusted to us, his nation. Every soldier should have the comfort and confidence that that those they leave behind will be safe and supported. However, in a cynical twist of national attitude, in a swelling of ignorant bias and nationalistic fear, we accept without hesitation his sacrifice, his willingness to go in harm’s way to protect our values, our way of life, but we hesitate to express those values of openness, acceptance and justice toward the community he leaves behind.
The Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America, New Jersey Chapter (APPNA), gave a send-off dinner for Dr. Chaudry, honoring his willingness to serve their country. Most who attended are first and second generation immigrants, now citizens who have built lives in the United States. They have businesses, families, and vital communities. They are philanthropic and have a culture of volunteer support for their towns. They feed the poor, heal the sick, build toward new tomorrows. They, like all immigrants before them, represent the future of America.
Nonetheless, despite the sacrifices they have made, the gifts of blood and sweat to build here, they are anxious and confused. Powerful examples of the successful American Dream, they sacrifice, work hard, create, and worry we are abandoning them.
The talk that night spoke of anxiety and fear. They are stunned by a national conversation that is attacking them for how they pray, the god they hold. Suddenly, this nation doubts their loyalty, commitment and cannot seem to tell the difference between men and women who love America, and those who would tear it down. They are confused how a polyglot country which was been built almost completely by immigrants, cannot tell friend from foe. They are stunned the definition seems to come to a single word: Islam.
In every religion, through all time, there have been those who twist faith toward violent, bigoted and nationalistic ends. When people are in pain, hungry and frightened, when they are impoverished, angry and ignorant, religion, God himself, may become a false flag under which demagogues gather their flock. It is not the religion which truly calls; it is fear, disconnection and twisted sociopathic vision. Religions of peace which build community and justice, which bring communities together, become tools of power, dominance, and war.
If any nation in the history of the world should know this lesson, it is the United States. We have intentionally built a country of many religions, of many communities. We balance and celebrate the critical need for individual freedom, local community, and a unified national vision. This diversity is our greatest strength, as it brings an extraordinary wealth of ideas, belief, and vision. It makes us passionate, curious, fluid and is a deep well of knowledge. We are strong because we salute being many.
The immigrant experience in the United States has never been easy. Each of us, each of our families, earned the opportunity to be here. Dr. Chaudrey’s sacrifice and service are part of that tradition. But, there are two parts to that social contract. He gives, struggles and makes all of us a little safer, a little stronger. In return, we support him and his family. Therefore, we must be concerned when we attack that bond, that national commitment, by any conversation which threatens the communities we leave behind, especially when that talk is based on manipulation by prejudice. Those that would attack our diversity, would tear us down.
American Muslims are part of who we are. They are threads in our national fabric. We must support every one of them, as we would support any other citizen who strives to make this a better nation. The faiths we hold, Christian, Jew, Hindu, atheist, Muslim, is what makes each of us strong. Our belief in protecting every faith, is what makes the United States of America remarkable, exceptional and powerful. Together we are all Americans.
I wish Lieutenant Colonel Chaudry a successful journey and deployment. We salute and need him. We will hold his family dear and, together, pray for his safe return.
James C. Salwitz is an oncologist who blogs at Sunrise Rounds.
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