Honor. Courage. Commitment. These were the Marine Corps values instilled in me day in and day out from the very moment I first stepped foot on those infamous yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, to become a United States Marine.
I was born in Pakistan. I immigrated to the United States around age 6. English was my second language. Oh yes, did I mention – I’m tan-skinned and a proud Muslim.
And just like many Americans, I follow the news and try to keep myself apprised of all that’s taking place in our nation, in particular, these days, the U.S. Congress and its potential to impeach President Trump. It’s literally in your face daily.
I’ve personally chosen to remain quiet on the whole impeachment thing. As an average citizen, I’m simply not privy to all the facts needed to make a full assessment on such a serious matter with so many implications across so many spheres. But last week, things finally struck a chord with me as one of my own was viciously attacked for simply acting out on honor, courage and commitment.
I’m referring to the case of U.S. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman – a decorated combat war veteran and a recipient of the prestigious Purple Heart with over two decades of honorable service to the United States. One would think his accolades speak for themselves, but it seems in today’s America no one is spared, not even the guy once injured by an IED attack in Iraq, who could have lost his life that day.
As news coverage surfaced of Vindman’s testimony before Congress, seen as damaging to the president regarding the whole Trump-Ukraine debacle, Fox News hosts like Brian Kilmeade and Laura Ingraham wasted no time in skipping over Vindman’s superior record of honorable service and pointing viewers toward theories questioning his loyalties, as well as even going as far as insinuating espionage.
Kilmeade made a point of saying Vindman, who is also the National Security Council’s top Ukrainian expert, “is from the Soviet Union, he immigrated from there and has an affinity to the Ukrainian people.” Vindman was only 3 years old when his family immigrated, not that it should matter.
Ingraham decided to take things a notch higher. “Here we have a U.S. national security adviser official,” she said, “who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House apparently against the president’s interests. Isn’t that kind of an interesting angle on a story?”
Law professor John Yoo, Ingraham’s guest, immediately took the bait: “I find that astounding,” he said. “Some people might call that espionage.”
But this sort of questioning of Vindman’s credibility and patriotism didn’t just seem to be limited to Fox News – CNN contributor and former Republican congressman from Wisconsin Sean Duffy also seemed in alignment, stating: “Mr. Vindman, he’s an adviser to the president, he’s a former Ukrainian, he wants to make sure taxpayer money goes to military aid to the Ukraine. He’s entitled to that position.”
When pressed by CNN host John Berman about why Duffy started his statement by highlighting Vindman’s birthplace and why it mattered where he was born, Duffy unabashedly doubled down: “He has an affinity I think for the Ukraine, he speaks Ukrainian, came from the country, and he wants to make sure they’re safe and free, I understand that.”
I honestly couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. Had the bar really stooped so low that a man with over 20 years of honorable service to the United States and a Purple Heart was now all of a sudden basically a nobody for the mere reason his birth hadn’t taken place in the United States?
For individuals like Lt. Col. Vindman, myself and countless others with immigrant roots, being made to feel as if we don’t belong is all too common in today’s America. It’s the sort of feeling that makes us question our sacrifice and whether or not the American family we always thought to be our family ever considers us to be the same.
So thank you, Laura Ingraham, Brian Kilmeade, Sean Duffy and all others who align themselves with such bigotry, for belittling U.S. military service members and veterans who weren’t born here. Hope you all sleep easy tonight as the thousands of immigrants serving in uniform continue protecting your free speech.
Mansoor Shams is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, the founder of MuslimMarine.org and term member on the Council on Foreign Relations. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mansoortshams.
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