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War on terror's other cost: undeserved anger at all Muslims

A US soldier explains how he keeps anger over Islamist terrorists from becoming prejudice against Muslims in general.

By Thomas W. Young / July 30, 2010

Alexandria, Va.

This September and October, Americans mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the ninth year of war in Afghanistan, respectively. This war has become arguably the longest in our history. Given the jihad-until-doomsday rhetoric of the Islamists, the war on terror will probably stay with us in one form or another for the foreseeable future.

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As the costs mount in blood and treasure, little wonder that the war corrodes the way we think about Muslims and Muslim countries. After all, the worst attack on American soil was hatched in Afghanistan, allegedly planned by a Pakistani, and carried out mainly by Saudis.

It is admittedly tempting to let conflict define our relationship with Muslims. Controversial bus ads about Islam in several US cities are forcing an uncomfortable conversation about this relationship. For those of us who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, it becomes personal. Nobody likes getting shot at.

Firsthand experience in a Muslim country

But several years ago, I had a different kind of experience in a Muslim country – one I like to recall in contrast to the events that dominate the news today.

On the first flight of my deployment, our Air Force C-130 cargo plane lifted off from Dhaka, Bangladesh. Water the color of mocha rippled beneath us, inundating slums and hovels, streets and fields. Bangladesh was suffering a flood of historic proportions.

Unlike most floods in the US, where a river overflows its banks and runs swollen along its course, the Bangladeshi flood had no identifiable river channel. Just a flat, drenched expanse – miles of it. As we climbed, the water stretched to the horizon. It was like an inland sea, dotted with treetops and shanty roofs. Tarp shelters clustered on the few patches of ground high enough to remain dry.

We carried about a dozen Bangladeshi air force cadets; it was the first time most of them had ever flown. Several minutes after takeoff, an oil pump failed. In less than 90 seconds, all the oil from one of our four engines spewed and misted into the floodwater. We shut down the engine, declared an emergency, turned around, and landed back at Dhaka. Muddy water lapped at the airfield’s perimeter.

I apologized to the cadets for their short and perhaps nerve-wracking ride.

They did not seem fazed.

“Not a problem, sir!” one of them barked, locked at attention. We could not get those guys to relax, but even through extreme military protocol, they exuded goodwill. “Thank you for the experience, sir,” another offered.