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An American's gravestone

This is the gravestone in Arlington National Cemetery of Cpl. Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, an American soldier from New Jersey who was killed in Iraq on Aug. 7, 2007. He died when a bomb detonated as he and three others were checking abandoned houses for explosives.

A photo in the New Yorker of Khan's mother mourning at his grave had moved Colin Powell, and he talked about it on Meet the Press last Sunday.

"He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American."

The New York Times told a bit more of Khan's story. He served in the Stryker Brigade combat team of the Army's 2nd Infantry Division, based in Fort Lewis, Wash.

He graduated from high school in 2005 and enlisted in the Army a few months later, spurred by his memories of the 9/11 terror attacks. "His Muslim faith did not make him not want to go. It never stopped him," his father, Feroze Khan, told the Gannett News Service in a story printed shortly after his death. "He looked at it that he's American and he has a job to do."

Khan had served in Iraq for just over a year, arriving in July 2006. He had sent home pictures to his family of him playing soccer with Iraqi children and hugging a smiling young Iraqi boy in Baghdad, according to his obituary in the Newark Star-Ledger.

He loved rooting for the Dallas Cowboys with his father, and challenging his 12-year-old stepsister, Aliya, to video games. He was crazy about Disney World. He last saw his family during a two-week visit in September 2006. On Meet the Press, Powell concluded his endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama by referring to the photo.

"I stared at it for an hour," he told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd when she called him for some follow-up. "Who could debate that this kid lying in Arlington with Christian and Jewish and nondenominational buddies was not a fine American?"

Dowd went on to write:

Powell got a note from (the soldier's father) Feroze Khan this week thanking him for telling the world that Muslim-Americans are as good as any others. But he also received more e-mails insisting that Obama is a Muslim and one calling him "unconstitutional and unbiblical" for daring to support a socialist. He got a mass e-mail from a man wanting to spread the word that Obama was reading a book about the end of America written by a fellow Muslim. "Holy cow!" Powell thought. Upon checking Amazon.com, he saw that it was a reference to Fareed Zakaria, a Muslim who writes a Newsweek column and hosts a CNN foreign affairs show. His latest book is The Post-American World.

In case you missed it when it was published a few days ago, here is what Colin Powell said on Meet the Press about the false rumors that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim:

I'm also troubled by, not what Sen. McCain says, but what members of the party say. And it is permitted to be said such things as, "Well, you know that Mr. Obama is a Muslim." Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian.

But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated (with) terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards — Purple Heart, Bronze Star — showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American.

He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

An American's gravestone 10/25/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 29, 2008 12:27pm]
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