Arab and Muslim Engagement
Defending America And The American Dream
As we approach the tenth anniversary of the tragic September 11, 2001 attacks and continue to defend against those who wage their vicious campaigns against us and our freedoms, it is essential that we look forward. That is not to say that we need not remain ever more vigilant by fiercely, courageously, and intelligently defending this great Nation. It does mean, however, that our uniquely American way of life and our freedoms must be preserved as well – intact and for all who lawfully and in good faith embrace it and seek its protection and freedoms.
I write this piece as an American and as United States Attorney – and to fulfill a promise I readily made to our friends and neighbors in our local Arab-Muslim community. I can proudly say that the citizens here in Southeast Louisiana have displayed the best of the American spirit in the tolerant, highly diverse gumbo of cultures which is quintessentially reflective of America as a whole.
But even in the greatest country in the world, assimilation can often be difficult and fraught with challenges. Nowhere has that cultural blending been tested more than with our Arab-Muslim neighbors. The consequences of an ongoing global war which we and our allies have waged against terrorists, have at times included a backlash often directed against Arab and Muslim-Americans.
To do less than accept, embrace, and protect all Americans is to deny ourselves the most fundamental identity inherent in American culture. Recognizing that Muslim Americans “are part of our American family,” President Obama stated a fundamental truth central to our American identity.
To deny this truth would be not only unfair to the people who embrace the liberties of this great country, but would perversely give a victory to those whose primary goal is to destroy our way of life founded on the equality and civil liberties of all citizens. Stated simply, our uniquely American way of life must never become a casualty of terrorism.
Having had the privilege over the last 10 years of interacting with our region’s diverse Arab-Muslim community, I continuously marvel at their extraordinary contributions to our safety and quality of life. Our vibrant community of Pakistani and other Arab-Muslim physicians has been saving thousands of lives and administering to the health of New Orleans area residents for years. The son of one of those physicians, Irfan Saeed – educated at Jesuit High School and LSU – served as an Assistant U. S. Attorney and my first Counter-Terrorism/National Security Specialist before moving on to the Department of Homeland Security. Many of our Arab-Muslim neighbors’ sons and daughters serve in the United States Armed Forces to protect our freedoms around the world. Professionals and business people from the Arab-Muslim community have deep roots here as Louisianians, and most of all, as Americans.
I have eaten and drank and danced with them, and listened to their hopes and fears – and most of all their love for America. I have been to their mosques, and have heard their commitment to prevent the radicalization of teenagers through Internet-based propaganda. We have shared concerns about corruption, crime, education, and other issues which underscore our identical desires to live in prosperity, happiness, and peace.
I have seen their pride in the recognition that American Muslims have served as the largest source of tips to authorities providing useful information in assisting in the tracking of terror suspects.
My sincere hope is that as Americans we have the courage to embrace the diversity that is the work in progress called America. For if we are to be true to the bedrock principles of our founding fathers – we must protect all of the American people from all enemies foreign and domestic, while at the same time protecting their civil rights and liberties. That is not always easy, but neither is building, defending, protecting, and maintaining the greatest nation on Earth.
Our similarities, shared dreams, goals and desires are far deeper than those few cultural details that distinguish us. Never was this more evident to me than last Friday afternoon at an Islamic Cultural Center when I was approached by a young Muslim man in our group. Armed with a smile, he said to me, “You know, despite our differences and challenges, it seems we all share the same religion.” Before I could respond, he tugged at the bottom of his T-shirt and proudly stretched out a big black and gold fleur de lis, with one word beneath it. “SAINTS”.What a country!