Hear This Proceedings Magazine - August 2011
By Captain Kevin Eyer, U.S. Navy (Retired)
In Striving for Diversity
Don’t Forget Muslims
While carefully protecting and nurturing identified special groups, there are still those who are on the outside, looking in. For example, while considered to be coarse by some uniformed personnel, it is still perfectly acceptable to openly denigrate and slur Muslims.
Just as was the case with gays until very recently, no one inside the military really seems to care. Since Muslims are virtually nonexistent in our ranks—there are twice as many Wiccans in the Air Force as there are Muslims—there is really no one to complain. More than that, even American Muslims may be considered by many Americans to be the enemy. Look at the evidence: In November 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 12 and wounded 30 at Fort Hood, Texas. Can there be any compelling reason to seek to bring more Muslims into the military?
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.