Muslims, Americans and Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a wonderful American holiday. Everyone is welcome. And wonders never cease.

Because I write my own columns, we don’t always get them out on schedule. And today I’m glad to be a day late.

I went online to read the New York Post and found a truly amazing column. It is under Post Opinion and I hope you will read it. The column is "Unappreciated Americans" and it is written by Ralph Peters. Peters writes of his respect and admiration for the Muslim community.

As a result of my support for a Palestinian state, and my work in Baghdad this year, I have become known as a friend to the Muslim community. I have spoken at Muslim political meetings and at one of them a chance meeting may have led to my return to Illinois to run for the U.S. Senate. A Muslim supporter gave me my first contribution for the U.S. Senate (which I need to cash). And Muslims have welcomed me into their homes, to share meals, holidays, and most of all their hopes for the future. Whether I am elected senator or not, the friends I have made have been an enriching experience.

Which brings me to Mr. Peters. Mr. Peters has written some pretty nasty stuff about Germans, about French, about Muslims, about anyone who has questioned the orthodoxy of invading Iraq or unquestioning U.S. support for Israel. I am happy his barbs have missed me.

Today’s New York Post carries Peters’ column that seeks to respect, appreciate and conciliate with the Muslim community. It should be required reading for those who seek to wage holy war against people of the Islamic faith. Just in the past few days we have been treated to the spectacle of Captain Yee, a Muslim military cleric who was initially portrayed as a holy warrior, and has now been charged with-adultery. And dirty pictures.

I am probably the only U.S. Senate candidate who can recount a history of bigotry and discrimination. Every Memorial Day, we still visit the graves of my grandparents. As immigrants, they experienced horrible discrimination. My mother can remember racist taunts directed at her a little girl. As a small boy I remember being told that "Yankees" would not allow Greek-Americans to buy property at the beach. I suppose it is this memory of discrimination, senseless and bizarre as it seems looking back upon the decades, and reflections on my ancestors every Memorial Day, that have made me a friend to the oppressed, to the newly arrived in America, and, today, to the Muslim community.

I believe that ultimately the Republican Party, with its respect for property, for prosperity, for individual initiative, can eventually open the most doors to acceptance and respect for immigrant communities. I do not accept everything the U.S. Government is doing today, but as U.S. Senator from Illinois I will work to change its policies where wrong.

President Bush has stated "Islam is not the enemy" and I believe him, although his subordinates often act exactly the opposite way, as though every Muslim is an enemy. The holy warriors who are ready to condemn, harass and persecute Muslims should read Mr. Peters’ article–at the Pentagon, at the FBI, and at the Department of Justice.

U.S. General Abizaid has written we are "in a war of perceptions" in the Middle East. I am sorry to say we are losing that war. Everywhere. I aim to keep America true to its great traditions and values, even as we wage war against the enemies and destroyers of civilization. We must win the War for Liberty because of ourselves, not in spite of ourselves.

Just because Thanksgiving Day is over, and an election is approaching, I won’t stop speaking on behalf of Muslim and Palestinian causes. I have met some of the people who have been terrorized by the Department of Justice and I am sure I will meet them again in the future. I support restraint, not undifferentiated attacks, by law enforcement. The FBI should target real enemies, not people who look and think differently, or who support human rights in the Middle East.

I will soon be asking Attorney General Ashcroft to dismiss criminal charges in Florida against a Palestinian activist. We should not be trying to criminalize the war in the Middle East between Palestinians and Israelis. Americans should use our power to right wrongs and end injustices, not perpetuate and prolong them.

And so today, I say welcome to our new Americans, and I extend an open hand to Mr. Peters, welcoming him to the cause of freedom and justice on behalf of our Muslim immigrants. If America is not here for all of us, it is not here for any of us. We are one.

Happy Thanksgiving.