Now Hear This

By Captain Kevin Eyer, U.S. Navy (Retired)

There is. In the case of the Muslim community, the opportunity exists for the military to assume a position of national leadership, rather than reaction. Reaching out to the Muslim community is the right, ethical, moral, and American thing to do, especially for the military, which is a great, if rude, leveling institution of the United States. But if a better reason is required for us to extend a hand to this particular element of our society, then here it is: Consider it to be an initial, important act of national self-preservation.

Examine France, a Western democracy. France is a country roiled with homegrown terrorism. These terrorists are not immigrants freshly arriving from Madrassas in the Sudan, either. They are mainly French citizens, many of whose families have lived in France for generations. Yet despite this, they remain physically, economically, socially, and educationally segregated. They are held apart. The same problem exists in the United Kingdom, which also holds its Muslim population separate from society at large. It seems evident that when Muslims in Western societies are marginalized, they become vulnerable to proselytization and capture by those who would destroy those societies from within.

Of course, the problem is more complex than simply encouraging Muslim enlistment in the military. We will have to work. As it turns out, while we may not be interested in them, they may be equally uninterested in us. According to Ibrahim Hooper of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, “there is a general reluctance to join because Muslims think there is bias against them and career prospects are limited.”

Resolving this impasse will require a long-term program of outreach to the Muslim community. It must be done, though. While the 1.2 million American Muslims may be seen as a drop in the bucket of the U.S. population, we are, like it or not, waging war with the external Muslim world. At the end of the day, if we cannot win the hearts and minds of our own countrymen, someone else might. And how can we gain the trust of Muslims in Indonesia, Libya, or Egypt if we fail to win the trust of our own?

Ask yourself: What sort of effect would it have in the Muslim community were the Navy to openly court its service? What if Muslims actually believed that we want to embrace them as good citizens of the United States? What might that mean to them, as individuals and as a group? It seems that for every Muslim midshipman, petty officer, chief, or captain, the image of the United States as their country too must surely grow more assured. Meanwhile, we will have demonstrated that we are good enough to practice diversity—and not just because it is politically expedient.

Captain Eyer retired from the Navy in 2009. He commanded the USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), Shiloh (CG-67), and Thomas S. Gates (CG-51). He is a frequent contributor to Proceedings .


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