I wrote this column
for my school paper less than 2 months after the attacks of 9/11. I first posted it on my blog in December 2004. In the wake of the Nidal Hasan terrorist attack at Fort Hood, I'm bumping it up.
The Power of Diversity
November 9, 2001, 12:00am
In our war against terrorism, diversity should be the greatest strength of the American people. Our country is not defined by any ethnicity or religion. We share a concept of country that embraces every person, no matter where he traces his family’s roots. Every language, every culture, every religion, every ethnicity, and every race of the world can be found in our American mosaic. To fight this war, our country should be able to draw upon an abundance of diverse human resources.
We have been raised, however, to think of our differences as a source of conflict. Politically correct culture has tried to downplay our differences when we should cherish our diversity and recognize that it makes us stronger people. Now that peacetime discourse has been replaced by wartime necessity, we have the opportunity to transform American diversity from a source of domestic conflict into a powerful weapon. The nation demands the unity of the American people in confronting our common enemy, but the diversity of the American people is the key to American victory.
Osama bin Laden, on his side, views our diversity as a weakness. Where President Bush has continually affirmed that the war on terrorism is not against Muslims, Osama bin Laden has defined the war along unmistakable ethnic and religious lines. His voice is louder than America’s voice in the Muslim world, and he has succeeded in winning the sympathy of many Muslims.
The United States has taken the lead in the war against Osama bin Laden’s terrorism, and we have the capability to defeat him. When isolated, the terrorists amount to no more than a radical fringe of particularly sophisticated bandits. But we cannot defeat terrorism if Osama bin Laden succeeds in polarizing Muslims against America. The war against terrorism is, in large part, a psychological war; therefore, winning the hearts and minds of the world’s Muslims is essential to the American war effort. Fortunately, within our diversity, we find a powerful weapon in the psychological fight: millions of Americans who are gifted with the right language, culture, and religion to appeal to the world’s Muslims on America’s behalf.
In building his terrorist organization, Osama bin Laden has proven to be an astute student of history and a master of propaganda. He appreciates the power of hate and has chosen the United States to be the scapegoat of his hate-driven campaign, much like the way Adolph Hitler once chose Europe’s Jews to focus his efforts. Terrorism represents a virulent form of destructive hate that is every bit as effective as Nazism in 1930s Germany. Like Hitler, Osama bin Laden has presented himself as an avenger of past wrongs, thus masking his murderous actions with pretences of a false victimization. Even as he defiles Islam, kills thousands of innocents, and foments a war that causes massive destruction among those he claims to represent, Osama bin Laden, by manipulating legitimate grievances, has successfully won the sympathy of many Muslims who would otherwise be in the best position to stop him. The unfortunate people who have chosen to support Osama bin Laden, such as the Taliban, are also victims of terrorism. In the unavoidable human cost of America’s battle against terrorism, the supporters of Osama bin Laden will pay the same penalty as the Nazi supporters in World War II.
Muslim Americans are in a unique position to aid the American war effort, both at home and abroad, while diminishing the overall casualties of the war. At home, many non-Muslim Americans lack an understanding of Islam and Islamic culture, which has allowed the fear generated by the terrorist attacks to have a deep impact on our country, particularly Muslim Americans. By engaging in the American war effort and educating non-Muslim Americans about their religion and culture, Muslim Americans can unify and strengthen the American people, while also negating the caustic fear that serves the terrorist enemy. As the face and voice of America abroad, Muslim Americans can effectively combat Osama bin Laden’s propaganda campaign in the Muslim world. By convincing the world’s Muslims to support America and not the terrorists, Muslim Americans can save many lives: those who do not support Osama bin Laden, after all, will not die on his behalf.
In our American diversity, we find our greatest advantage over the terrorists and our nation’s key to winning this war. All Americans share the same duty of service to our country. Muslim Americans, however, have a special opportunity to serve their country with a unique set of skills and abilities. With this war, Muslim Americans hold the power to change the course of American history, and in doing so, to join the annals of the greatest American heroes. Muslim Americans, in essence, have been given a rare chance to create a permanent niche in the hearts and minds of America.
Eric is a sophomore in the School of General Studies.