As with many other non-Muslim holidays, many Muslims look upon Memorial Day with mixed feelings. Of course, it’s not just us; a lot of Americans have mixed feelings, wanting to honor those who have died in service to the country, but conflicted because so many of those deaths were unnecessary because the wars or conflicts were misguided and mis-fought. When American soldiers, sailors, or Marines have gone to countries where Muslims are the majority and have shot them, bombed them, drone-attacked them, or engaged in war crimes such as rape and murder, we Muslims cannot sit back and pretend full support and blind patriotism.
I grew up in a military family. My dad is a veteran of the Viet Nam War. I have several family members who have served or who are serving in the military. I almost joined the Marines myself, way back when I was a teen. I grew up next to a military base and feel comfortable around olive-drab uniforms (which is what they wore back in the day) and high-and-tight haircuts. But one thing about growing up in that environment teaches me a very important lesson:
People are not heroes just because they serve in the military. Even if someone dies in active duty, that does not confer any heroic status postmortem. People join the military for many reasons – patriotism, lack of civilian jobs, to get away from a boring hometown, educational opportunities, or the more creepy reason of being in a position of power and being allowed to kill people. To confer hero status on all military personnel actually does a great disservice to those who really do deserve the title. And it’s hard to know who is deserving, since what is in the heart of a person is between him and God. Underneath the tombstone of a dead soldier might be the body of a man (or woman) who died trying to save a comrade; under another is the body of one who died of a heart attack while raping an innocent villager. It’s not for me to lump everyone under the category of hero. Remember, Pat Tillman was a soldier; so was Timothy McVeigh.
So on Memorial Day, I generally just keep my mouth shut and let the day pass unremarked. My family does not mark the day with either solemn ceremony or a family barbecue. It’s an extra day off of school for the kids, but still a work day for the hubby and this year a day of relaxation (not including doing laundry and cooking dinner) for me. I don’t watch any TV coverage of wreath-laying or protests of American involvement overseas. It’s just another day for me.
Will that make people mad? Probably. But listen. I don’t paint all military with one brush. I understand the motivation for people to defend their country, but I also recognize that we have been totally misled by our political “leaders”, Republican and Democrat, and that the wars we have fought over the last decade and more in the wake of 9/11 have been foolish wars of choice against a) a country that did NOT attack us on 9/11 (Iraq) and b) a country that the United States helped arm and train when they were fighting against the Soviets (Afghanistan). Others have written in-depth about how the wars were and are mismanaged – if you want to get mad, get mad at the politicians who are throwing YOUR sons and daughters into the firing line of conflicts that did not need to be.
Am I a patriotic American? I want the best for all the PEOPLE in America, and that actually puts me at odds with the government, whose goal is simply to make as much money on the backs of citizens as they can and do as little as it can for the men and women who make it possible for them to go to war. If being a patriot requires mindless agreement with everything Uncle Sam says or does, then no, I’m not a patriot, I’m not a robot. I’m an American, and I have a duty to point out the shortcomings in our country. When the government no longer serves the people it is not worthy of my support.
On this day, Memorial Day, May 26, 2014, I bear neither wreath of remembrance or barbecue tongs. I bear instead thanks to all the men and women in the military, in the police force, and in the rescue services such as the fire department and EMT corps who are good people and have a sense of duty towards their fellow human beings, who are kind to others and who are not afraid to ask hard questions of their leaders, who don’t just grab a gun and go or view the “other” as enemy because that makes him easier to kill. Who are you, and what percentage of the military and other groups are you? I don’t know, but I know you are out there. I thank you and I honor you year-round and not just on one day. And for those who are out for glory, or enjoy killing, or who hate another because he wears a turban or comes from “over there”, well, Allah will judge you. I ask Allah to guide you because I’d rather have you as a brother than an enemy, but in the meantime, I ask that your guns jam, your drones crash, your mortars be duds, and your knives break so that you can’t kill any more of my brothers and sisters in humanity, Muslim or non-Muslim. And Allah hears the du’a of the oppressed.