In the weeks and months following the 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., a small but significant debate arose in conservative circles over the role of Muslims in the political life of the nation.
Most chose to follow the lead of then-President George W. Bush, who made clear—almost from the earliest moments—that American was indeed at war, but against an ideology and a tactic, terrorism, rather than a religion. Some however used the occasion as an excuse to question, as a group, the loyalty and patriotism of Muslims living in the United States and working in the U.S. government.
Now former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese, a longtime senior adviser to former President Ronald Reagan, has weighed in on the debate.
Meese came in for criticism from some quarters last year when he endorsed David Ramadan, now a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, whom some claimed was a "stealth jihadist." In an interview with Newsmax, the nation's leading conservative news magazine, Meese recalled "that a 'fringe group' accused Ramadan of "somehow not being totally an American or being an Islamist or somehow not being worthy of running for office," adding that he felt "this was an unfair attack and persisted in my support of him because of that."
"All of us have come to America either directly or through ancestors from some other country—other than Native Americans, perhaps—and so I think it is important that we be very careful not to accuse people of things that are not true," Meese—whose conservative credentials are above reproach—told the magazine.
"It's one thing if a Muslim believes in Sharia law, for example, and thinks that we should have it in this country, or believes that we should not have fought against terrorists who happen to come from Muslim backgrounds," Meese said. "We have to be very careful not to disparage them in any way, for something that they haven't done."
His defense of Ramadan is not likely to assuage those who believe there is a significant fifth column of terror allies living throughout the United States waiting to strike. While it is clear that are some dangerous people out there, this is not an excuse to brand an entire group of people as a threat to U.S. national security, something Meese identified as a concern.
"I think it's always serious when any American is disparaged because of their religion, solely because of their religion or their background, when there is no basis for it," Meese told Newsmax. "I think it's a wrong thing, and it does hinder our efforts to counter those people that are really involved and hurting America."
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Corrected 2/01/12: A previous article misstated the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.