I had the honor of serving in Afghanistan from 2005 to 2006, as an embedded trainer with the Afghan National Army. The men with whom I served were committed to ridding their country of Islamic terrorists, and I never questioned their willingness to lay down their lives for their American counterparts.
And yes, they were Muslims.
My experience taught me that in spite of our theological differences, these brave Afghans longed for nothing more than the same fundamental liberties that we desire as Americans: to live long, healthy lives in peace, to provide for our families, and to be rid of the forces of evil that prey upon our world.
Together, we shared the oftentimes humiliating deprivations of war and the overwhelming loneliness of separation from our families. Together, we learned, we laughed, and occasionally we shared our faiths through prayer and discussion. From my perspective, the contents of both their faith and character are as opposite of the Islamic terrorists as my character and Christianity are opposite of the teachings and practices of the Ku Klux Klan.
So, I find it troubling that there is so much animosity toward the building of a mosque just a few blocks from ground zero. As Americans, we so strongly subscribe to the belief that we are that shining city upon a hill, but now, that light seems to grow dim.
I can neither accept nor believe that the spirit and principles of our remarkable Constitution were crushed beneath the crumbling walls of the Twin Towers, destroyed within the burning debris of the Pentagon, or scattered across the gently rolling fields of Pennsylvania. That's neither the America I know and love nor the country that I served for 21 years in the Army. And it is certainly not representative of the price of freedom that far too many brave men and women have paid with their lives over the past two centuries.
Just this morning, I heard one of the insufferable talking heads on cable TV espouse the belief that the president, in the face of opposition by the majority of Americans, must change his stance on the building of this mosque. How soon we forget the sentiments of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, that one person with courage is a majority. I suspect that in this age of soulless, opportunistic politicians, it would prove quite difficult for a modern-day John F. Kennedy to find any suitable role models for a rewrite of Profiles in Courage, save for President Obama and Florida's governor Charlie Crist, among the minority.
Furthermore, what the cable commentators failed to understand was that the Constitution, along with the Bill of Rights, was specifically designed to protect individual freedoms from the majority opinion, especially when the majority is wrong.
In contemplating the entire issue of the mosque, I often think of those precious souls lost on that terrible day in September 2001, and I have wondered, if somehow the dead could once again walk among us, knowing what they now understand of God's loving mercy and grace, what would they tell us? Would they oppose this construction only two blocks removed from ground zero?
Or, perhaps, not only encourage it but also welcome it even closer, maybe even at ground zero, as a sign to the world that they did not die in vain and that this nation is not the infidel our enemies would have the world believe. This is still that shining city upon the hill, if only we let that light shine.
Recently, my Afghan interpreter, Shekib, safely arrived in America with his young wife, Nadia. They have taken up residence in Texas as he begins to pursue his American dream. Together, Shekib and I went through many trying times in Afghanistan, and he deserves this opportunity to live in a land that so many of us so often take for granted.
In a few weeks, Shekib and Nadia will welcome their first child, a girl. And at the moment of her birth, she will be an American citizen. I pray that she may one day walk into a mosque anywhere in this country, even one that's only two blocks removed from ground zero, and there worship her God as she sees fit, knowing that in this great nation it is her inalienable right, guaranteed by law.
Retired Major Michael R. McCusker was awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Army Commendation Medal for his service in Afghanistan. He is now an attorney residing in Germantown.