Why Are More American Muslims Not Enlisting in Our Military?

A story out of Reuters this week, carried by the mainstream media (MSM), and then soon thereafter distributed widely by American Islamist organizations makes the pronouncement that a ”Fear of bias keeps U.S. Muslims out of the military,” (February 6, 2007 by Bernd Debusmann).

This dismissal of American Muslim responsibility for military service is preposterous. Reuters found immediate approval from Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). He is always too willing to confirm all claims of anti-Muslim bias substantiated or not from a naïve reporter. Why then have American Muslims not rushed to enlist in the frontlines of our national defense? If not ‘fear of bias’ then what is it? CAIR, and its victim echo chambers including the ADC (Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee), MPAC (Muslim Public Affairs Council), and MAS (Muslim American Society), to name a few, have made a franchise industry, since 9-11, out of the amplification and exploitation of Muslim minority fears real or not. Mr. Hooper irresponsibly deflects the realities blaming the military and not Muslims stating, “The military have the same problem as civilian government agencies, such as the FBI; there is a general reluctance to join because Muslims think there is bias against them and career prospects are limited.” The piece notes that Muslim military numbers barely exceed Wiccans in the Marines but not in the Air Force.

The approach by CAIR and the MSM enablers obfuscates the realities of Muslim disenchantment with the American military. As a nation, we cannot exaggerate the importance of understanding all of the cultural and ideological barriers to military enlistment from within the American Muslim community. Understanding this problem intimately relates to how we conduct public diplomacy, ideological engagement of our enemies, and the battle of ideas. Our greatest asset in this war are the nationalistic American Muslims who identify the enemy by name and by ideology. We cannot allow the propagation of deception which attributes Muslim absence in our national defense erroneously to a ‘fear of bias’. There is no way to substantiate the fear since it is conveniently induced by its mere suggestion. And in fact, there is virtually no evidence to substantiate the premise that anti-Muslim bias in our armed forces exceeds in any way that seen in everyday America.

In fact, my eleven year experience until 1999 at over six duty stations in the United States Navy speaks to the contrary. Things may have changed post 9-11, but so did civilian America. Muslims are not leaving America, yet they are avoiding the military. In today’s post 9-11 climate, a frank conversation on military enlistment is sure to be quite challenging. We need to certainly always be wary of generalizing some realities upon the entire faith community. For example, American Muslims will fear the label of disloyalty if they owned up to the internal reasons for not joining. And American non-Muslims may unfairly seek to associate the religion with what is manifestly a political and cultural conflict which continues to exploit the Islamic faith. The following analysis is offered as just one Muslim opinion regarding internal barriers from within the community.

The seeds of nationalism are planted in youth The first step to understanding why American Muslims would or would not enlist is to look genuinely at what molds the minds and national consciousness of American Muslim youth. Most Americans who serve will tell you that they felt the call to serve long before the time to enlist came. My own family escaped to the United States in the mid-1960’s away from the horrible oppression of the despotic Baathists of Syria. They came seeking personal and religious freedom which the nation of Syria was in no way able to provide them. Syria’s unchanged government to this day only provides its people with oppression, corruption, and despotism.

I have always been raised understanding that I can practice my faith more freely and more personally here in America than in any other nation on this planet. This American nationalism was cultivated and instilled in me as a youth by my Syrian-Muslim American parents who yearned to be American for ideological reasons. This nationalism was never in conflict with the pluralistic ideology of the devout Muslim faith which they taught me or with my Arabic culture. I was raised with the understanding that America was all about being pluralistic and respecting our nation under the Constitution and its laws. These laws provide the opportunity for all faiths to maintain their traditions and worship God free of government coercion. I was taught conversely that Islamist theocracy is in conflict with this and with Islam. In my youth, references to ‘home’ always meant the United States not ‘back home’. It never referred to our Syrian motherland whether or not our extended family had remained there. Syrian nationalism was left in the motherland from where my parents came and it was entirely exchanged upon their arrival on American soil for an even stronger nationalism for the United States. This was natural for anyone who left Syria for political reasons and was given a road to citizenship in the United States.

While I was born in the United States, this type of American immigrant bonding was integral in planting the seeds which led to my own sense of need to serve in the U.S. Navy. These seeds were planted early and no ‘fear of anti-Muslim bias’ would have ever changed that. Analyzing the real barriers to American Muslim enlistment

From my own personal story as an American Muslim, and a lifetime of living among the Arab-American and Muslim-American community, I see a number of key areas contributing to the dearth of American Muslim enlistment.

1-Often, immigrants do not manifest sole nationalistic identification with the United States but rather have a mixed identification between their nation of origin and America—almost a dual ‘cultural home’. The breaking of that bond with their cultural ‘home’ may actually only often occur in those who came seeking political protection from their homeland. The remainder who came to the U.S. for economic reasons may take many generations to engender a deep-seeded nationalism. Muslim organizations spend little time internally cultivating this deep understanding of the ideology which is America and the freedom it embodies and separates it from every other nation in the world. At their best, these organizations only remind Muslims, in a lip service, to separate Americans from their government and its policies. What more can one say than to look at the name of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) and see that they view America and Islam as two entities which have relations much as foreign nations do, rather than as simply Americans who happen to be Muslim.

2-Most American Muslim immigrants will expound ad nauseum about the complete distrust they had for the governments and their military in the nations from which they emigrated. In fact, many Muslim nations suffered from repeated coup d’états because the militaries of those nations had been abandoned by the leading families of society. The discipline of service to nation via military service was lost to generations in the Middle East. Thus, from Libya to Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan to name a few, the military apparatuses taken over by thugs decimated the societies. They became laboratories of corruption and oppression. This interestingly makes the persistence of Arab nationalism despite its production of oppression an inexplicable paradox. This paradox is only rooted in a very deep sense of an Arab, Persian, or Indo-Pakistani tribal identity– right or wrong. The reality is that this deep-seeded distrust of government, this tribalism, and some corruption has not been shed by many Muslim immigrants despite all that the United States has given them. And the transplanted distrust magnified by conspiracy theories carries over into a similar distrust of America’s national defense forces.

3-One should not underestimate the depth of penetration of conspiracy theories and association of all that is bad in the Muslim world, right or wrong, with American foreign policy. This is not only brought over during immigration, but is fortified and magnified with the continued daily appetite of most Muslim immigrants for mainly Middle Eastern Arabic satellite media from LBC to Al Jazeera to Syrian government television to name a few. These channels are hardly media which are going to carry sentiments that stimulate the enlistment of American Muslims in our armed forces. This is not to mention the anti-American sentiment which is pervasive in so many of the immigrant American Muslim media. For example, here in Phoenix we monitor the local Islamist publication, the Muslim Voice at the Arizona Islamist Watch to expose the ideas disseminated insularly to the Muslim community. It is the only local printed Muslim media. In April 2006, AIFD highlighted this piece, “Military forces criticized as persistent problem for everyday youth”, distributed by the Muslim Voice, at every local mosque in Phoenix. This featured article warned Muslim youth to avoid all military recruiters because they are deceptive and dishonest. It is naïve to minimize the impact which such anti-American propaganda has upon enlistment or the lack thereof. This is especially true when these negative images are virtually unopposed from other Muslims. When we talk about the battle for ‘hearts and minds’, those battles should begin with Muslims in the U.S. which are exposed to one-sided anti-American media from within.

4-Current American Islamist organizations (CAIR, MPAC, MAS) intentionally focus upon victimization and cultural division. They are incrementally creating an atmosphere which leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. As they declare and fabricate bias and prejudice at every corner in America that will listen, they drive impressionable American Muslim youth away from deeper participation. They drive the youth away from non-Muslim activities toward insularity and toward Islamism. As these organizations advance their religio-political movement (quasi-religious political parties), impressionable youth are only left with a religious identity upon which to enter politics rather than a national one which respects the separation of religion from politics.

This is only the beginning of a needed analysis of why many, but not all, American Muslims have shied away from military service. American Muslims would do well to look back at American history and witness the contributions of the 100th Infantry Battalion/ 442nd Regimental Combat Team—the most decorated unit in military history. This unit was made up of 4,500 nisei —second generation Japanese Americans. The unit distinguished itself by fighting in eight campaigns and two beachhead assaults in Italy and France. They captured a submarine and opened the gates of Dachau prison. It is said that in the climate of domestic Japanese internment of the time, that this heroic unit of nisei did more to combat bias against Japanese-Americans in the United States during WWII than any other program. We in the Muslim community need new organizations and institutions which understand this type of forward American Muslim approach of integration and military service rather than division and victimization. A few more years of the Islamist agenda and their fabricated fears will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.


M. Zuhdi Jasser is the founder and Chairman of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy based in Phoenix Arizona. He is a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander, a physician in private practice, and a community activist. He can be reached at Zuhdi@aifdemocracy.org

THIS commentary appeared at Family Security Matters.

Allman and Smash interview M. Zuhdi Jasser AIFD

Muslims in the Military and AIFD