We are not here to debate the tough challenges facing our great nation, or the ways to meet them. Certainly recent terrorist events on our soil have placed Muslims, whether immigrant or American, on the radar screen.
Our leaders and presidential candidates have all taken a stab at how they would confront the issue of terrorism. Donald Trump has taken a hard position calling for banning Muslims from entering the country, and a mandatory registry for all those here.
Trump’s call to action so upset a young Muslim-American child that it prompted her mother to post on Facebook what a sad day it was in America when an 8 year old child was afraid the Army was coming to take her away. The post went on to say that this is terrorism. No child in America should be made to feel so afraid.
For the past two weeks, veterans and active military men and women from around the world have been posting photos of themselves on social media with the hashtag #iwillprotectyou.
The campaign, which began with a single Facebook post from Army veteran Kerri Peek, was launched in support of Sofia Yassini, an 8-year-old Muslim-American girl from Texas, who — after watching Donald Trump on TV call for banning Muslims from entering the U.S. — got scared that the military was going to come and kick her and her family out of the country.
“It was the first time that it really drove home to me that we’re in a dangerous place right now,” Sofia’s mother Melissa Yassini — who works with the Islamic Association of North Texas — told Upworthy.
Since Peek’s hashtag went viral, hundreds of veterans and active duty military members have contacted the Yassinis to express their support, according to Melissa.
Upworthy contacted five of them and asked them why they chose to reach out to Sofia.
Here’s what they told us, in their own words (many of those who are currently serving noted that they are speaking for themselves only, and not the U.S. military):
Sgt. Amanda Hils
“The idea that a child would be scared in our own [country], of our own military, is not something I’m comfortable with,” Hils told Upworthy.
Hils, who was deployed in Afghanistan in 2011-12, recalled feeling heartbroken that any American child would view her fellow service members as a threat. While many veterans and active military men and women wrote messages, Hils felt it was important to show Sofia what it looks like to have a woman in uniform looking out for her…
“If she’s able to put faces to that sentiment, I think that’s great.”
Above all else, she believes speaking out was the right — and necessary — thing to do, and that the man in charge would agree.
“At the very least, I’m echoing the sentiments of our commander-in-chief. He’s made it very clear: Muslims are not our enemy.”
“The more fear grows, and the stronger it gets, the easier it is to overshadow everything,” Hardy, an Air Force veteran who served as a military policeman in Wyoming and Korea, told Upworthy.
According to Hardy, growing up African-American left him all-too-familiar with how harmful — and deeply, emotionally wounding — some stereotypes can be and how it can often be difficult not to carry them through life. The notion that Muslims are dangerous — and that non-Muslims should fear them — hits Hardy the same way.
“Once you’re labeled something, you begin to think, ‘OK, is there any truth to this?’ You have to question yourself, and be stronger than that, and know, ‘OK, that’s not who I am.'”
That’s why, for Hardy, the decision to support Sofia and her mom is not just an obligation that comes along with having served.
“I think it’s an American duty,” he said…
“No one will be coming for you, so long as I breathe,” Brandt, a former paratrooper who served two tours in Iraq, wrote on Facebook.
Photo by Patrick Brandt/Facebook, used with permission.
In addition to showing Sofia support, Brandt was moved to post #iwillprotectyou to help rebuke the Islamophobic sentiments that he believes are distressingly common among some of his fellow veterans.
“I’m not saying all vets are represented in that group, maybe not even most of them,” Brandt told Upworthy, “But [that] crowd is certainly the loudest on social media it seems to me.”
The message Brandt hopes to send his comrades-in-arms?
“I want them to know that I see the Islamophobic movements that are happening in our nation are in direct conflict with the ideals of USA,” Brandt told Upworthy. “Not only will I physically defend my brothers and sisters if it comes down to that, but I will proactively step up and be a voice of compassion to my peers…”