Military Vets Join Baltimore Muslim Community for Conversation on Islamophobia, Muslim Ban
While the nation shook after President Donald Trump issued the executive order effectively blocking millions of immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries, military veterans in the Baltimore area took the opportunity to open dialogue and confront the rising tide of Islamophobic rhetoric and policy advancing across the United States.
In January 29th Veterans for American Ideals (VFAI), in partnership with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Baltimore, held a town-hall conversation about bridging the divide between American Muslim communities and the rest of the country. Dr. Faheem Younus, Youth Director at the Ahmadiyya center, hosted a crowd of over 150 veterans, Muslim community members, and members of neighboring Jewish and Catholic congregations.
“Everybody’s talking about building a wall—we’re building a bridge. What we’re doing between the Muslim and veteran community is to build that very strong bridge of understanding,” said Younus. VFAI leader Sarah Feinberg, a Marine Corps veteran and active member of her own church, thinks this is a natural partnership.
“We as veterans, we signed up to defend the United States against enemies foreign and domestic. We signed up to support American ideals. If we want to be an example to the world, if we want to promote our ideals abroad, we need to do it at home and we need to do the right thing when it matters. Now is when it matters,” said Feinberg.
Participants also weighed in on the recent executive order. “I think it’s clearly against American ideals, it’s clearly against what American stands for,” offered Mansoor Shams, a VFAI leader and youth minister for the Ahmadiyya Center.
VFAI founder and Human Rights First National Security Outreach Director Scott Cooper voiced other concerns. “What concerns me most is that this [executive order] was a strategic mistake. This was a gift to ISIS that just feeds into their narrative that the United States is building walls and is at war with all of the Muslim world… What does it say to the future of any conflict, when we’re going to need soft networks of wartime allies to fight alongside us?”
While military veterans understand full-well the importance of maintaining and safeguarding relationships with Muslim-majority ally nations, others vets in the audience noted that Americans of Islamic faith are serving their country every day in the armed services. After several Muslim American veterans stood and were recognized, Cooper brought the discussion back to the values that we all share as Americans.
“Terrorism is a threat, and the how do we fight that? Among other ways, we fight it with our values. The notion that, for instance, when I put the uniform on … that it [stands] for something. America stands for something.”
Whether at a mosque on a Sunday afternoon in Baltimore or in airport protests across the nation, people are showing that America does in fact stand for something, and that there are Americans of all stripes to stand there with it.
As Sarah Feinberg said, “There is reason for hope that it is possible to foster more understanding between communities and reduce hate. How many places in the world could a Christian woman with a Jewish last name come and speak to a Muslim community about ending anti-Muslim bigotry? America is a great country and we need to keep it that way by standing together against attempts to tear us apart.”