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U.S. Must Recruit More Muslims Into Military
By Aysha Hussain
© DiversityInc 2007 Â® All rights reserved. No article on this site can be reproduced by any means, print, electronic or any other, without prior written permission of the publisher.

 

No matter which way you spin the record player, the U.S. armed forces need more Arab and Muslim participation. And they need it now.

 

That may sound like a contradiction when you consider that I'm opposed to the Iraq war. But I believe it's critical that the Bush administration change its recruiting strategies by allowing more Arabs and Muslims to serve in the military as translators and cultural messengers, especially in the handling of Iraqi civilians.

 

Last week, the Christian Science Monitor recounted the story of Abdel Salam, an Egyptian-born Muslim American, who agreed to join the U.S. Army as a translator. Salam, a Brooklyn resident, said he is proud of his heritage and his decision to act as the link between culture and service.

 

"I'm proud of what I'm doing," says Salam. "I want to help the Iraqi people understand what the [American] soldiers are there for—to show them there's someone from their culture who's also from the U.S. who understands them and wants to help."

 

Recruiting service members like Salam is crucial because without the assistance of Arabs and Muslims, this war will persist. The Iraqi people will continue to be antagonists toward Americans, and the United States will need to deploy more operatives. The problem here is trust—between two cultures and two faiths.

 

Perhaps the greater question here may be: If the army doesn't require its service members to disclose their religion, why do the U.S. armed services mistrust military operatives who happen to be Muslim?

 

There is a lingering distrust among many Americans toward Islam. This fear of Muslims, or "Islamaphobia," has grown to unprecedented highs in the wake of  9/11.

 

That fear goes both ways. Islamaphobia in the U.S. is palpable; there is an equal amount, if not more, of "American-phobia" in Iraq and around the world as a result of this war. In the wake of the abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, it's no wonder many Arabs and Muslims are skeptical of serving in the armed-service sectors. Many are convinced that the U.S. military and their own country are against them.

 

In my opinion it's a lose-lose situation to not enlist more Arabic translators into the armed services. As long as the United States continues to disappoint in their efforts to hire more Arabs and Muslims, there's a good chance this war will go indefinitely, and countless more lives will be lost.

 

In 2005, President Bush seemed to recognize the importance of recruiting people with the language skills and cultural background that would help collect information on al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. During that time, he ordered that the CIA increase the number of Arabic speakers by 50 percent. However, the CIA, FBI, Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security all failed to meet this goal. Characteristic of this foreign-language deficit is that of the 1,000 recent employees enlisted to join the embassy inside the Green Zone bubble in Baghdad, there are only six who are fluent in Arabic.

 

The U.S. military has since stepped up its efforts to recruit Arabs and Muslims who are native speakers of Arabic, Pashto or Farsi. They have even received a significant increase in job applications. In addition to setting up special outreach programs, the U.S. military also has hired imams, opened prayer rooms on some bases, and increased military observances of Islamic holidays to assure Arabs and Muslims they are welcome.

 

Arabs and Muslims are the missing link in this equation. They will be the bridge that brings this divisive war to an end.

 

As Arabs and Muslims, if we can do nothing to stop the war, it is our civic duty to do whatever it takes to defend and reassure the lives, culture and religion of our Muslim brethren. If that means joining the military, so be it. This window of opportunity has been closed on us too many times.

 

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