The push by some in the media against rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States gained valuable voices of support over the weekend -- and now joining that chorus are veterans who fought alongside U.S. servicemembers of Islamic faith in Iraq and Afghanistan.
A small but growing group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have signed onto an open letter, provided exclusively to the Huffington Post, which calls on the American public to respect "the values we risked our lives to protect" and to avoid endangering the mission -- and safety -- of U.S. forces in the Mideast. Like Gen. David Petraeus, the veterans warn that U.S. troops will face blowback from demonstrated intolerance for Muslims at home.
"America, you gotta have our back," reads the letter, composed by signatories Roy Scranton, Philip Klay and Perry O'Brien. "Those who would vilify and target Muslims on grounds of their religious belief not only show a deep disrespect for American values, but put American lives at risk. It's easy to burn a Koran when you won't feel the heat."
O'Brien told HuffPost that he, Scranton and Klay, all of whom are now writers living in New York City, wrote the letter together out of mutual frustration with the uptick in anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence, then learned that "many of our buddies felt the same way."
They're not alone. A Quinnipiac poll released Monday found that 50 percent of respondents said "mainstream Islam" is a peaceful religion, while only 27 percent said it encourages violence toward non-Muslims. And though the Park51 project -- the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" -- is still opposed more than two-to-one by the general populace surveyed by Quinnipiac, support for the project is growing in New York itself.
The "frenzy" whipped up in response to Park51 "was one of the key events that drove us to write the letter," O'Brien wrote in a follow-up email, along with the Muslim cab driver stabbing late last month. "I think we all feel that this city has become the center of much of this renewed intolerance, at least in the popular imagination," he wrote. "As vets living in New York, we wanted to speak on behalf of friends currently deployed and remind people that hysterical culture wars have very real, and very dangerous impact for people fighting real wars."
Read the full letter:
As veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have watched with increasing alarm the rise of anti-Islamic rhetoric within the U.S. We've seen attacks on Muslim citizens, intolerance toward religious expression, and even threats of book burning. All this goes against the values we risked our lives to protect.
We have served beside Muslim soldiers, Marines, sailors, and airmen, as well Muslim translators, who risked their own lives and the lives of their families to help us. For the servicemembers currently deployed, the success of their mission and the safety of their lives depends on a basic respect for, and interaction with, Islamic culture.
Those who would vilify and target Muslims on grounds of their religious belief not only show a deep disrespect for American values, but put American lives at risk. It's easy to burn a Koran when you won't feel the heat.
We speak as infantrymen, truck drivers, medics, artillerymen, supply sergeants, and civil and public affairs officers, professions whose success depends on good relations with a deeply religious Muslim population. That population sees the American flag we wear on our uniform and judges us, not only by our actions but on the values our citizens uphold. We must be able to point back home to the values we represent. Chief among those values is our courage as a nation to peacefully and openly engage with differences of culture and religion.
What is a squad leader in Kandahar supposed to say to an Afghan woman who asks him why we want to burn her holy book?
When citizens here participate in hateful rhetoric and intolerance toward Muslims, it leaves soldiers over there exposed.
America, you gotta have our back.
Roy Scranton, US Army Artillery, Iraq
Philip Klay, USMC Public Affairs Officer, Iraq
Perry O'Brien, US Army Medic (Airborne), Afghanistan
James Redden Jr., USAR Journalist, Iraq
Joshua Casteel, US Army Linguist, Iraq
Logan Mehl-Laituri, US Army Forward Observer, Iraq
Hart Viges, Army, Infantry (Airborne), Iraq
Jason M Wallace, US Air Force Maintenance, Kuwait
Chantelle Bateman, USMC Supply, Iraq
Geoffrey Millard, US Army Infantry, Iraq
Nicholas Przybyla, US Navy Cameraman, Pakistan Coast
John McClelland, US Army Medic (Ranger), Afghanistan and Iraq
Andrew Johnson, US Army Radar Technician, Iraq
Daniel Paulsen, US Army Medic (Airborne), Afghanistan
Fernando Braga, US Army Supply, Iraq
Maggie Martin, US Army Signal, Iraq
Adam Kokesh, USMC Civil Affairs, Iraq
Lisa Zepeda, US Army Lab Technician, Iraq
Brian Turner, US Army Infantry, Iraq
Matt Gallagher, US Army Cavalry Officer, Iraq
Michael Anthony Ruehrwein, US Army OR Tech, Iraq
Erika Sjolander, US Army Supply, Iraq
Bryan Reinholdt, US Army Apache Maintenance, Iraq
Jason Chambers, US Air Force Air Freight Specialist, Iraq
Joe Wheeler, US Army Surgical Assistant, Iraq
Ash Woolson, US Army Combat Engineer, Iraq
Chris Hellie, US Army Cavalry Officer, Iraq
Sara Beining, US Army Intelligence Analyst, Iraq
Helen Gerhardt, US Army Transport, Iraq
Garett Reppenhagen, US Army Cavalry Scout, Iraq