PORTLAND – I passively observed the recent spate of open contempt for Muslims, expressed in public demonstrations in New York and in public statements by a vocal segment of our population.

It seemed a phenomenon only unfolding on TV and the Internet, among people who live far from Maine.

But after the recent complaints about the Portland Press Herald’s coverage of Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, I was moved to add my two cents to the local conversation.

My fear is that some perceive a Muslim celebration coinciding with 9/11 to be problematic. Some seem unable or unwilling to discern the fraction of 1 percent of individuals who call themselves Muslims and perpetrate acts of terror from the remaining 99 percent of Muslims who do not.

I fear this is the first step down a slippery slope toward the open and unjustified contempt of Muslims that we are seeing elsewhere in the country, and I hope that people who have taken that first step will pause and step back.

OF MANY BACKGROUNDS

As an infantry officer in the Army, I had extensive interaction with Muslims on deployments to Bosnia and Iraq. They were Sufi, Sunni, and Shia; Bosnian, Iraqi, Saudi, Kuwaiti, Turkish, Indian, Sudanese and American.

Some worked with me as interpreters, some were soldiers and police who served other countries, and some were fellow soldiers serving America. I will share some examples below.

In 2003, during the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the first sergeant of my infantry company was a Muslim. He was later promoted to sergeant major.

He was killed in 2009, while serving this country on the fourth combat deployment of his 26-year career. His widow is also a Muslim and a career soldier.

In 2005, I worked with Iraqi soldiers and police — all Muslims. Americans and Iraqis operated side-by-side and all risked their lives. But the Iraqis also risked more. Had their identities been revealed to any of the insurgent or terrorist networks operating in Iraq, they would have been tortured to death and their families hunted down.

They were underpaid, poorly equipped and living in constant fear for themselves and their families. Many wore masks to hide their identities.

Some deserted out of fear. But many did not. Of those who remained, many were killed serving their country and helping to further the objectives of the United States. Some saved the lives of American soldiers in my infantry company.

Our interpreters — all Muslims — also made tremendous sacrifices. In 2003 we were initially unable to pay them, but they volunteered to work for free. Later we obtained some funds to pay them, but it only covered the cab fare that they paid to get to and from our patrol base.

In 2005, our interpreters got paid slightly more, but wore masks and had assumed names to hide their identities because threats against their families were more common.

Many were forced to quit when it became known they were working for us and they fled the area with their families to avoid being murdered.

We were forced to hire contractors who could recruit interpreters from other countries, who were less vulnerable to intimidation. They, too, were Muslim.

And they risked their lives by patrolling dangerous streets by our side, providing a service that far outweighed their meager compensation.

In 2007, one of our interpreters was a local Iraqi who had been working with U.S. forces for nearly three years. We were attempting to obtain American citizenship for him in gratitude for his contributions.

But my last order of business before leaving Iraq was not to submit his citizenship application. Instead, I processed the paperwork for a small condolence payment to his widow.

He and an Iraqi army sergeant were killed by a suicide bomber when the unit he was with intercepted a convoy of insurgents transporting components for a truck bomb.

NO ILL WILL

The Muslims whom I and my fellow soldiers served with were not terrorists, nor did they hold any ill will toward America. Most of them sacrificed more for this country than the overwhelming majority of Americans will ever sacrifice.

To serve America with these men, in combat, to see some of them killed, their families threatened, and all of them risk their lives for Iraq and America, and then hear Americans associating them with terrorists is bewildering, to say the least.

I hope this irrational disdain for Muslims does not spread to Maine.

– Special to the Telegram