Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Muslims in the Military: Threat or Resource?

According to the New York Times, Muslims in the US military are increasingly ambivalent about serving in the US military at a time when the Arab world is home to so many of America's enemies. The New York Times reports as follows.

"But two years later, when Mr. Akgun was deployed to Iraq with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the thought of confronting Muslims in battle gave him pause.

He was haunted by the possibility that he might end up killing innocent civilians.

“It’s kind of like the Civil War, where brothers fought each other across the Mason-Dixon line,” Mr. Akgun, 28, of Lindenhurst, N.Y., who returned from Iraq without ever pulling the trigger. “I don’t want to stain my faith, I don’t want to stain my fellow Muslims, and I also don’t want to stain my country’s flag.”

During World War Two, Japanese Americans living on the west coast were put in internment camps due to fears about their loyalty to America at a time when America was at war with Japan. There have been official apologies as well as token compensation to those who were interned.

What is less known is that there were Italian Americans and German Americans who were interned under similar circumstances. The site "Modern US History Suite 101 reports as follows on this troubling chapter in US history.

"Actions against Italian-Americans began prior to the Pearl Harbor attack as Roosevelt ordered the FBI to compile a custodial detention list. This list would contain the names of individuals to be arrested in the event of a national emergency. In the months immediately after Pearl Harbor, hundreds of Italian- Americans were arrested. As of June of the following year, 1521 Italian-Americans were arrested by the FBI. Military service was no barrier to being arrested. Many of those taken in to custody in San Francisco were veterans of World War I who had later joined the Federation of Italian War Veterans. gents would arrive at the intended detainee’s home during the night and search the residence. The target of the arrest would be taken to an immigration detention center. Their families were not told the reason for the arrest or where the person was being taken. Those in custody were transported to an internment camp where they faced a panel of military officers and private citizens. They had no legal representation and were not advised of the charges against them. Most people were in custody for two years, moving between camps every three to four months. Internment camps were located at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, Fort George Meade in Maryland and Fort Missoula in Montana. Italian-Americans were also interned at Tennessee’s Camp Forrest and Camp McAlester in Oklahoma. The Provost Marshal General and the Immigration and Naturalization Services had forty-five other locations where they could intern these individuals. Italy surrendered on September 8, 1943 and many detainees were released by the end of the year."

German Americans were similarly targeted. There were legitimate fears of groups such as the German American Bund posing a security risk in time of war. the concerns were remarkably similar to those that arise with Arab Americans today. Family ties to a country with which America is engaged in hostilities raises security questions.

It is because of America's embarrassment at its World War Two civil liberties record that many Americans are reluctant to repeat the same mistake with Arab Americans. Unfortunately, we have gone too far in the other direction. Malik Hasan, who is accused of gunning down US soldiers had broadcast his support for suicide bombers. he even gave a power point presentation on the subject to other soldiers. So vocal was he in favour of jihad that numerous fellow soldiers complained about his opposition to American military objectives. He had exchanged correspondence with known al Qaeda operatives.

President Obama, after giving his shoutout and light hearted banter finally managed to amble around to the subject of the Fort Hood shootings after two minutes . He urged Americans not to jump to conclusions. Unfortunately, the tragedy was caused until now by people jumping away from conclusions out of a misguided sense of political correctness.

Plenty of Americans of Italian, Japanese and German ancestry served their country with honour in World War Two. They were able to resolve doubts about their loyalties and to use their cultural and linguistic gifts to America's benefit.

There are plenty of rifts in a nation that investigators can hone in on and exploit to America's benefit. In Italy and Germany there were many anti Nazi and anti fascists who felt their countries had been betrayed by their leadership. Jews from Germany had been stripped of any reason to feel loyal to the Third Reich. German Jews were for the most part fluent in German and knowledgeable about the culture. They were useful informants. I have spoken with German Jewish immigrants who used their Germanness to aid America during World War Two.

In the Arab world are Christians, Mandaeans, Yazidis and Druze who speak Arabic but are out of the social mainstream. There is a Sunni minority in Iran and a Shiite minority in Saudi Arabia. There are plenty of people who have good reason to feel mistreated by their governments. The United States should have in place an intelligence division to process information and evaluate informants from Muslim countries. Our pool of prospective immigrants should provide us with an ample number of operatives to work in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and all of the many other languages spoken in the Islamic world.

The Muslim world is riddled with quarrels. There are African slaves in Arab countries. There are devout Pakistani Muslims who have felt the sting of bigotry in dealing with Arab Muslims. I have encountered these divisions simply in conversations with taxi drivers, co workers and neighbours. A skilled intelligence operative should find such Islamic factionalism easy to exploit for America's benefit.

I agree with those who say that not all Muslims should be lumped together. But it is time to use the complexities of the Islamic world for our benefit. The naivete that allowed Malik Hasan to escape detection is simply bigotry with its shirt on inside out. America can do better. And we must. Sphere: Related Content

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