The "Moderate Muslims" We Left Behind

The kneejerk demand by media personalities and politicians for "moderate Muslims" to denounce heinous acts of violence that are perpetuated in the name of Islam ignore the fact that worldwide, those who are most likely to be maimed and killed are by their very existence moderate Muslims. What is most disingenuous about this request, is our nation's treatment of one particular group of moderate Muslims -- translators who served with U.S. troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. During my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan I had the honor of working with some of the bravest men and women I have ever known. Like many of my fellow Veterans, I cannot express the loss that I felt when two of our interpreters where killed in the line of duty. While our translators did not wear our uniform they became an integral and indispensable part of our team.

Instead of being able to readily engage and highlight a group of these much-sought after moderate Muslims who have not only fought and died alongside our service-members, we ignore the plight of thousands of these men, women, and their families who have been left behind in their home countries as U.S. troops withdraw, often threatened by the very terrorists that they helped us fight against. Our shared neglect of these individuals is a propaganda victory for those who would do us harm, and a moral failing of our nation.

The bottom line is this: for every incident of fanaticism done under the name of Islam, there are thousands of Muslim Iraqi and Afghan interpreters and their families who are either being targeted for killing or sitting in refugee camps waiting on an archaic and unfair U.S. visa process to underserve them at every turn. With a Congress that goes out of its way to champion our veterans, political capital has remained in short supply for the interpreters who were integral in making sure those same Veterans returned home safely. Celebrities like John Oliver and organizations like the International Refugee Assistance Project have been at the forefront of pushing a reluctant and byzantine State Department to improve a process that borders on malpractice and can only be tragically humorized as an example of bureaucratic comedy.

This national disgrace is beginning to be noticed by other sectors. Just recently in Chicago, The Robert R. McCormick Foundation in partnership with the Chicago Council on Global affairs, the Truman National Security Project, and the Pritzker Military Library convened foundations, businesses, and refugee rights organizations to understand and lend support to this important group of moderate Muslim heroes. This event, which aired on Chicago Public TV WYCC, highlighted how indispensable these individuals are to national security and how best to support the efforts to help them receive visas to escape persecution. While this effort to highlight the crisis for these individuals is laudable, a national shift in dialogue is required to identify them as critical national security assets in our war against violent extremism.

If we are to view these individuals as an integral part of our national security, then we must also combat anti-intellectuals who demand that the Muslim community flash their "moderate Muslim" card every time violence is done under the pretense of Islam. More broadly, we must be self critical of our own "freedom" agenda if we are not able to invest the resources and will to secure the safety of those who fought alongside our best and brightest. Continuing to fail these individuals will only sap our nation morally and limit our ability to honestly engage the true moderates who would make ready allies in the future.