President Obama hosted an Iftar dinner celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan yesterday, and used it as an opportunity to urge tolerance and recognize the contributions of Muslim Americans. At one point in his speech, he pointed out that, contrary to conservatives claiming that Muslims collectively attacked America on 9/11, there were Muslim Americans on the plane that crashed into the towers:
Muslim Americans were innocent passengers on those planes, including a young married couple looking forward to the birth of their first child. They were workers in the Twin Towers -- Americans by birth and Americans by choice, immigrants who crossed the oceans to give their children a better life. They were cooks and waiters, but also analysts and executives.
There, in the towers where they worked, they came together for daily prayers and meals at Iftar. They were looking to the future — getting married, sending their kids to college, enjoying a well-deserved retirement. And they were taken from us much too soon. And today, they live on in the love of their families and a nation that will never forget. And tonight, we’re deeply humbled to be joined by some of these 9/11 families, and I would ask them to stand and be recognized, please.
Muslim Americans were first responders — the former police cadet who raced to the scene to help and then was lost when the towers collapsed around him; the EMTs who evacuated so many to safety; the nurse who tended to so many victims; the naval officer at the Pentagon who rushed into the flames and pulled the injured to safety. On this 10th anniversary, we honor these men and women for what they are — American heroes.
Nor let us forget that every day for these past 10 years Muslim Americans have helped to protect our communities as police and firefighters, including some who join us tonight. Across our federal government, they keep our homeland secure, they guide our intelligence and counterterrorism efforts and they uphold the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans. So make no mistake, Muslim Americans help to keep us safe.
So nothing is going to stop conservatives from engaging in a frenzy of Muslim-baiting over the president's message here. But Obama is hardly the first president to use the occasion of Ramadan to recognize the Muslim community and reinforce a message of tolerance, President Bush held Iftar dinners every year he was in office.
Last August, the country was enveloped in a non-controversy over the construction of an Islamic community center near Ground Zero. If nothing else, Obama's speech is a reminder that the neat lines some conservatives want to draw between Islam and the West--the same one Islamic extremists seek to draw--is a myth, and all the better for us.