My currency is love.
I’m a peacemaker even though I have spent 35 years in the military. I am a retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Army reserves and a practicing hijab-wearing Muslim woman.
When I am wearing a hijab, I get all kinds of looks and stares from people. Some scream at me to “Go back to the country you came from!” I want to whip out my military ID and say, “I defended you! And, this is my country!”
When I was in my military uniform, people—maybe even the same people that scream at me—came up and thanked me for serving our country. I lived that dichotomy. I have done a lot of self-reflection with emphasis on trying to integrate and am now striving to be a woman of peace in a not very peaceful world.
I didn’t wear my hijab while I was in the military. People didn’t necessarily know who I was in the military because everybody was dressed the same. If I didn’t self-disclose, conversation would be very different, more open. I could discuss Al-Qaeda, and I could be contrary to the other’s position, but we would have a great conversation. The moment I self-disclose there’s a lot of silence and not great dialogue. And if I have a contrary position, they think I’m siding with the terrorists because we are all Muslims together.
In Tampa I had to self-disclose because that’s where I gained my authority as the Cultural Engagement Officer. What I did was go to universities, think tanks, organizations, non-profits that were looking at issues about Muslims. I would have to say I’m a Muslim in the conversation. They were hostile.
Even though I was born a Muslim, I wasn’t really practicing. The military in some ways brought me closer to my faith. The military allows people time off to worship, on Sunday mornings. Forget how myopic they are—Jews don’t pray on Sunday mornings, nor do Muslims or other faiths. Those that didn’t go to church had to do extra duty, so I said to myself, I’m going to go to church.