- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Some 35 years ago, an ambitious young man in his 20s arrived in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the gateway to the promise of America. For years, the young man had made attempts to escape the poverty, the discrimination and the ignorance of his native country. The first of his large and impoverished family to finish high school, the young man scrimped, saved and borrowed enough money to finally make the long journey to freedom.
Upon arriving in New York, he boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Laramie, Wyo., where he found a job, won a university scholarship, and met and married an equally ambitious young woman. Together, the couple moved to California, raised a family, helped pioneer the first computer boom of the '70s and '80s, and, in short, realized the American Dream.
Before his passing almost four years ago, this proud American, Dr. Mahboob K. Khan, taught me, his oldest son, the treasured values of being an American; the freedom to voice an opinion, to engage and even criticize the government, to practice one's religious faith, and to secure economic security. But while he extolled the virtue of freedom, he was quick to remind my siblings and me that this liberty did not come without a price. With freedom came responsibility, and in cherishing our blessed status he warned that often sacrifices must be made to defend that freedom.
In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, tragedy, like many of my fellow Americans, I have often taken a moment to reflect on what it means to be an American. Beyond the flags, bumper stickers and media attention, the tragic events of a year-and-a-half ago continue to shock our conscience and remind us that freedom is not merely a word and, importantly, that freedom is not without a price. As we prepare for the possibility of military action in Iraq, it is more important than ever that we remember what we as Americans hope to protect and defend.
Not long ago, I was fortunate to attend an event in Washington honoring Muslim American fire department and police officers for their heroic rescue efforts at Ground Zero and the Pentagon following the September 11 attacks. New York City Police Officers Adil Almontaser, Rafet Awad, Faisal Khan, Ahmad Nasser and Fairfax County, Va., Fireman Ronald J. Kuley received recognition and awards for their heroism and unflagging rescue efforts in the wake of the devastating attacks. While the attacks of the terrorists broadcast a message of hate, rage and religious fanaticism, the heroism of the rescuers served to demonstrate, for those who cared to learn, that Muslims are willing, like their fellow Americans, to sacrifice what it takes in defense of freedom.
As Americans, our hearts sank when we heard and witnessed the tragic events of September 11. Our nation was under attack, and the death toll was horrendous. As Americans who follow the faith of Islam, our hearts broke when news reports indicated that the perpetrators of these despicable and cowardly deeds were individuals who claimed to also be Muslims and, worse, claimed their actions were committed in the furtherance of Islam. The quiet valor of the American Muslim rescuers reminded the world that these heinous acts were not representative of a people nor a faith but instead reflected the terrorists' twisted and tortured interpretation of the Islamic faith.
Unfortunately, some have taken the attacks on our nation, our measures of heightened security, and the possible conflict with Iraq as license to target and demonize Americans of the Muslim faith as a threat to our national security and indeed our American way of life. Some have gone as far as to question the loyalty of American Muslims and to even call for the barring of all American Muslims from public service. This is only giving in to the terrorists demonstrating to our enemies that we are willing to respond to hate with hate, and to give in to our fear by succumbing to prejudice with our own fear and prejudice. Evil must not triumph, and we must work and struggle to resist those seduced by hate and prejudice.
We can be thankful that President Bush has stood strong against such divisiveness, reminding us that ours is a War on Terrorism, not on members of any religious faith. Mr. Bush is determined to not go down the sad road of racism and ethnic division as African-Americans, Japanese-Americans and so many others sadly experienced in our nation's darker moments.
President Bush has embodied America's tradition of fairness and inclusion, standing tall beside the more than 6 million American Muslims, knowing that American Muslims have time and time again proven their patriotism and their allegiance to America. Many serve in our Armed Forces today and many have given their lives in service of our nation. American Muslims contribute to the American economy every day by owning businesses that employ thousands of Americans. This is a group of family-oriented people who value education, have a very low incidence of drug and alcohol abuse and who donate millions to help the less fortunate in America. They, like their fellow Americans, pay taxes and contribute to the economy.
The vast majority of American Muslims are proud to live, work and serve their nation. As we look back to the events of more than a year ago, and as we prepare for possible conflict with Iraq's dictator, we can take great pride in the fact that, regardless of ethnic and religious heritage, we stand united as one American people. And as Americans, we are united in defending our cherished liberty in the many long days ahead.

Suhail A. Khan serves as an attorney with the Bush administration.


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