Tough Questions on Veterans Day

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Today is Veteran’s Day. I should be feeling proud and patriotic, but I’m not. Does that make me a bad American? Perhaps I should “go back to my own country” as someone calmly told me the other day. Except, I’m already in my own country, I’m proud and happy to be American, and my identity as American-Muslim is all the more stronger and faithful because of the hyphen. So what gives? Why can’t I explain Veteran’s Day to my children without feeling a bit uncomfortable?
One issue we have today as Americans or citizens of any other country is that politics and the military are more and more interconnected. Today, although it is perfectly fine to call out the government and even the President of the United States in all manners of unkind speech (a century or so ago that would have been treason in many parts of the world), we cannot and probably should not do the same with our veterans. They have served their country with honor and bravery. They have taken bullets and bombs to keep us safe. They have stepped out into the ugly, dangerous world so that we can sleep in our warm beds at night.
Here’s my problem, though. What about the soldiers from the other side? Are they any less brave or patriotic? Are their sacrifices any less honorable? My heart bleeds when innocent children are killed by anyone. My heart also bleeds when any soldier anywhere falls in the line of duty. He too, was a father, a son, a brother. He too will be missed by someone. At the end of the day, we are all human beings, all creation of One Creator. Should we celebrate one team fighting another? Or should we feel saddened by the fact that we cannot peacefully solve our differences?
A celebration such as Veteran’s Day is complex – no less complex than celebrating Columbus Day or Independence Day. After all, wars are run on the assumption that the world is divided into good guys and bad guys. The word “vet” is now reserved for anyone who fought on the side of the Allies in WWI/WW2 or the America/Europe consortium in recent wars. We forget that every country has veterans, and every nation is proud of their vets.
Veterans themselves are conflicted as well. Talk to Vietnam vets and they will tell you tales of horror. Muhammad Ali was perhaps the most vocal of those against the Vietnam War, but many of those who fought came back riddled with guilt. History and common sense tells us that one nation’s veterans are another nation’s killers. One nation’s terrorists are another nation’s freedom fighters. In the American Revolution, who were the good guys if you were British? In WW1 why did colonized Indian Sikh soldiers fight on the side of the allies? For Muslims in the US army, what does it feel like to kill another Muslim soldier in Iraq? There is no black and white; only gray. The world seems to celebrate war more than peace, and that is not a good thing.
Yet we must support our troops. They deserve our support. In many ways they may be the answer. Perhaps our veterans more than anyone else can convince the world to stop fighting, in the names of veterans of every army on earth. Perhaps one day our children or grandchildren won’t need to celebrate this holiday anymore.
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Her upcoming book “Brick Walls: Tales of Hope and Courage from Pakistan” will be published in 2015. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi