I first want to commend the Watertown Daily Times for their balanced coverage of the recent sign controversy. Whatever view you take on the issue, one thing is certain: Muslim Americans are now a part of the public conversation.
For several years now, much of the national conversation on Muslims has centered on partisan politics with conservative pundits denouncing liberals as apologists who would rather promote "political correctness" than national security and liberal pundits volleying accusations of racism and intolerance among conservatives.
In this often noisy, back and forth, have you noticed a remarkably absent voice? I have. I'm talking about Muslim Americans who are often talked about but less often talked to. This is strange to find in a democracy that prides itself on deliberation between citizens as means of obtaining understanding and consensus. How can we have an honest and realistic conversation, unless everyone is invited to the table?
Some believe that the controversy was the result of a misunderstanding between two parties. Perhaps. It certainly would have saved everyone involved some steam if we had started with some common ground. We see plenty of common ground when we consider the civic commitment of Muslim Americans.
I've already seen a lifetime's worth. I have attended the funeral of a Muslim American, off-duty emergency medical technician who was killed when he voluntarily joined a response team that rushed into one of the burning Twin Towers on Sept. 11.
I have attended an induction ceremony of a Muslim American, third-generation Marine; I have watched Muslim American youth participate in politics supporting Republican, Democratic and independent candidates and myself worked with Army reservists in Mattydale as they prepared for deployment to Iraq. These stories are the tip of the iceberg of a sustained Muslim commitment to American life in every line of service.
We deny reality and dishonor the commitments of Muslim Americans when talk about Muslims without talking to Muslims. The diversity of the north country makes this absolutely unnecessary. We don't need to watch TV or go online to find definitions of Muslim Americans.
Muslims of every stripe live and work at the base, the city and the surrounding villages and are capable of expressing their views without a pundit's help. If something good is to come out of the events, I hope and pray it is some good old-fashioned civil discourse with all our neighbors.