Kareem Khan, a US Muslim, reacted to the 9/11 attacks by wanting to serve his country, and right after he graduated from high school, in 2005, he enlisted in the Army. When he completed training, he was sent to Iraq in 2006.
If his name had been Billy White, who grew up Mormon, everyone would've said "Oh, what a patriotic, good, red-blooded all-American boy."
In August of 2007, Specialist Kareem Khan, then age 20, died along with four others in his unit in an explosion destroyed a house he and the others were clearing.
If his name had been Danny Brown, who grew up Baptist, everyone would've said "Oh, what a patriotic, good, red-blooded, all-American boy--and he gave his life for his country."
How do you feel about Kareem Khan? Are you thinking "Patriotic, good, red-blooded, all-American boy who joined up and gave his life for his country" or ....or something else? Something you'd rather not say in public, maybe?
How much does someone have to do to prove he or she is a "real" American? What do you even mean by that?
Back when I was in high school, and JFK was running for the Presidency, some people ignored his legal status as "American" (by birth, like me, like some of you) and argued that because he was Catholic he wasn't "really" American. They were afraid he'd let in the Inquisition or something. He didn't. Back before that, some people believed citizens of Japanese heritage could not be "real" Americans and put them in concentration camps during WWII...and stole their property. In WWI, some people believed anyone of German descent couldn't be a "real" American. In the 19th century, it was Native Americans who couldn't be "real" Americans, and then there's the whole sorry mess with African-Americans.
Now we have people afraid of Senator Obama because someone told them he was Muslim, and they think all Muslims must be in league with the Taliban. I have been told I can't be a real American if I'm a Democrat...that all Democrats hate their country and want to turn it Communist (yup--really happened.) I have also been told I can't be a real Christian and be a Democrat. But then, by some of the same people, I have been told I them,can't be a real Christian unless I'm one of them and agree with everything they believe...which I don't.
Let's get something straight: any infant born in this country is a real American, as real as you can get. That's what the Constitution says. Any immigrant naturalized in this country is a real American. Black, white, brown, pink, purple, spotted...born here, American. Naturalized here, American. Equal under the law except that naturalization is a bar to taking office as President. (Not, you will notice, Governor.)
Patriotism is a trickier term to define, as it has no legal definition. In my books, someone who serves the country more than himself--and serves its highest ideals--is a patriot. Military service alone (especially in times of conscription) doesn't suffice--but voluntary service, willing service while maintaining the ideals of the service, does. Hence Kareem Khan: patriotic American boy who gave his life for his country, as many others have done, and who happened to be Muslim. He wasn't patriotic because he was Muslim; he wasn't unpatriotic because he was Muslim. He was patriotic AND Muslim--independent variables.
But there are other forms of patriotism. Anyone working to make the country better, to live to the ideals on which it was founded--anyone striving to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States from all enemies foreign and domestic--is a patriot. What are those ideals? The secular ideals of 18th century Humanism, mostly, as developed in two centuries of struggle with harsh realities and engrained bias: not only the "self-evident" truth that "all men are created equal" but that all persons are created equal--that age, race, religion, sex, and disability do not affect that essential equality. Not equal in size, strength, ability--but equal under the law, and equal in the sight of God (for those who are religious.) In particular...equal as Americans, as I'm sure his comrades considered Kareem Khan equal as a member of the unit. That people should not be prejudged guilty, and the accused should be able to know what they're accused of, and face their accusers, and call witnesses in their defense. Previous centuries had given our founders ample evidence of why those things were bad, what abuses resulted.
In our two foundational documents (counting the Bill of Rights as part of the Constitution), in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution itself, we have for the most part solid, worthwhile ideals to build on. But that can be (and is being) destroyed by those who--had they been alive at the time of the Revolution--would have fought for the king, and not this country. Real Americans--my definition--are not defined by where they live or how they earn a living or how much money they have or whether they are religious (and which religion) or whether they've served in the armed forces or not--and certainly not by what political party they belong to. They are defined by an abiding love for and care of this country's most precious possessions...those ideals, this land, these people.
Anyone who qualifies under the law can be a "real" American: Christian, atheist, agnostic, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu...anything or nothing.
I won't even say the lying scum who spread the lies about Senator Obama aren't "real" Americans since we have had scoundrels here since day one...but they are bad Americans, traitors to the ideals that founded this nation. Racists, religious bigots, those who lie for profit...can't redeem that by wrapping themselves in the flag. Not when men like Kareem Khan shed the blood.