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November 03, 2016

Mansoor Shams: Muslim, Marine

Islamophobia—an unfounded fear or hostility toward Muslims or Islam—is on the rise in the United States and anti-Muslim rhetoric from political leaders and other public figures is increasingly common.

Such fear-based rhetoric has had real-world consequences. Anti-Muslim hate crimes are at their highest levels since 9/11. This summer in Queens, New York an imam and his assistant were shot in cold blood. In Florida, a mosque was burned down. In towns across the United States, many residents and political leaders are protesting the acceptance of refugees from Syria on the basis of their religion.

This is not the America that Mansoor Shams knew when he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 2000. “I didn’t realize that years later we would be in a place or a part in our history where Islamophobia would be rampant. I never thought I would be talking in front of you today as a Muslim American U.S. Marine because when I came in, before the 9/11 era, there was nothing about anyone’s faith or color or whatever. It didn’t matter. Everybody was one. One family.”

Faced with this new reality, Mansoor founded MuslimMarine.org with the goal of fighting bigotry toward Muslims. He hopes to break the mentality that leads some people to look at a person like himself and see a terrorist, and to help them instead see a neighbor, a citizen, a veteran—someone who was willing to sacrifice his life for our country. He wants to remind Americans that it was our willingness as a nation to embrace people from all cultures, ethnicities, faiths, and backgrounds that made us a beacon to the world.

On a recent visit to Arlington Cemetery, where graves of the fallen are inscribed with crosses, stars, and crescent moons, Mansoor prayed with a mother of another faith who was there to mourn the loss of her son. “This was about a fellow soldier who gave his life for his country … Her son’s sacrifice, and the sacrifice of Muslims serving in the military or serving in various capacities—they’ve been part of the American fabric for well over 200 years,” he says. “What makes America great is actually its diversity.”