As a Marine who has deployed through out the Middle East, I have worked, trained and broken bread with Muslims. I have known their families and communities. I have fought with them and for them, as I have for this country and my fellow citizens, many of whom are also Muslims. I can't stand by while some people are accused of being guilty by association of one's religion and therefore discriminated against.
This controversy isn't about religion. It's about courage. As a helicopter pilot and intelligence officer, I've studied and fought our enemies. Terrorism is a psychological war based on fear. The counter to it is courage. Our course of action here at home is to abandon the politics of fear and embrace the politics of courage. The people who strongly oppose these places of worship are the same loud, angry and often frightened voices that we hear too often in our public discourse these days. I ask that they abandon their divisive rhetoric, intolerance and hate. I ask that they join us by showing al Qaeda that they cannot defeat us.
I say to them, what do we have to be afraid of? Are we not brave, strong proud Americans? I say, we are, because I have seen it in our countrymen. I have known good friends who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. I have witnessed heroic deeds made by amazing men and women. I know friends who have lost so much during this financial crisis and still have the courage to pick themselves up and start a small business. I have seen the courage of people who give to those less fortunate even when they themselves have heavy burdens to bear.
Instead of acting out of fear, we need to act out of courage. As I taught my midshipmen at the Naval Academy, "Courage isn't the absence of fear. Courage is acting in spite of our fears to do the right thing even when it is unpopular." We need to stand together with courage to act boldly to put this country on the right path. We need courage to stand up to big businesses when they fail their workers and the taxpayers. Courage to protect our nation from the real enemies: Osama bin Laden and his band of thugs and criminals. If we act out of fear and abandon our principles, then they have won.
I have known fear my whole life. I was afraid as a kid facing down a pair of school bullies. I was afraid when my parents divorced. I knew fear when I left home at 18 and went to Marine Corps Boot Camp at Parris Island. I was scared when I left behind my pregnant wife and 15-month-old son for Iraq, not knowing if I would return home. I was afraid when I took fire flying our wounded and deceased to safety in Iraq. I knew fear when facing the reality of my wife's mortality as she battled breast cancer. And yet, I have always faced my fears. Through courage and will, I have survived each encounter with my integrity, honor and life intact. I will not let it defeat me. I will not let it defeat us.
It's time for us to lead in America with courage again.
Ben Leming, a Marine and veteran of the Iraq war, is a Democratic candidate for Congress in Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District.
Cross-posted from the Huffington Post