Nate Terani is a Muslim, the grandson of Iranian immigrants and a U.S. Navy veteran. He also is a member of a new organization called Veterans Challenge Islamophobia.
He grew up in central New Jersey, but, in 1985, the eight-year-old Terani was taken on a visit with his family to his ancestral homeland. While there, he was enrolled in a special bilingual school for children who had grown up in Western countries.
One day soldiers, in green and black uniforms, broke into the classroom, dragged the children into a courtyard and ordered them to watch the flags of their home countries being set on fire.
The children were ordered at gunpoint to trample on the burning flags and shout, “Death to America.”
Instead Terani snatched a burning American flag off the ground and darted through the legs of the watching crowd before the soldiers could catch him.
His experience reinforced his love of country and gave him a new understanding of the evil of religious hatred.
In 1996, at age 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He must have been an outstanding recruit. He reported that he was the first Muslim-American member of the Navy Presidential Honor Guard.
In 1998, he became special assistant to the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, and, in 1999, he was recruited to serve in the Defense Intelligence Agency. He transferred to the Navy Reserve in 2000 and completed his military service in 2006.
Terani said that even as a schoolboy, long before the 9/11 attacks, he was picked on because of his Muslim religion and swarthy Middle Eastern appearance. Yet he learned that many of the bullies were good people, kind to their families, friends and even strangers.
He tried to reach out to them with patience, humor and understanding and found that, in many cases, he was able to make them see him as a human being like themselves, and not as some sort of alien menace.
Since 9/11 and, especially since the successful presidential campaign of Donald Trump, he still loves his country and has redoubled his efforts to fight religious hate, from whatever source.
Nate Terani, One Veteran’s War on Islamophobia on TomDispatch. His whole story is well worth reading.