I'm a Muslim U.S Marine, And I'm Staying, to Make America Great Again. Just Not the Trump Way | Opinion

It's a few years ago. I'm in the midst of heavy traffic in Baltimore City, and out of nowhere, a man walks in front of my car, forcing me to suddenly break. Naturally, I honk my horn. Without any hesitation, he responds "Go back to your country." And it doesn't stop there - to make it clear I didn't belong he hurls a plastic bottle my way, hitting my windshield.

Although racism, xenophobia and bigotry were nothing new to America, I had always felt that our nation was moving in the right direction; that slowly, but surely, we were mending our ways. Always, that is, until President Trump got elected to the highest office of the land.

It's 2016. My eldest son is at his middle school, when a fellow student states, in passing: "I guess this is goodbye, no offense, but see you later man." My son is left processing as to exactly what this was supposed to mean, considering he had been born in America.

And now it's 2019, and the President of our United States tells a press conference: "If you're not happy in the U.S., you're complaining all the time, very simply, you can leave, you can leave right now—come back if you want, don't come back if you want, its ok to, but if you're not happy here you can leave."

I entered the United States at the age of six and became a U.S. citizen a few years later. At 18, I decided to embark on a journey very few Americans (including those born here) experience—the kind of journey where you take your most treasured gift, life, and put it on the line. I signed up for U.S. Armed Forces and became a United States Marine.

Yes, I was an immigrant, yes, I had tan skin and black hair, and yes, I was a Muslim by faith but nevertheless I was, and am, a proud American. At least that's what I always thought. And just in case you're wondering about the whole Muslim American U.S. Marine thing, loyalty to your country of residence was a part of my Islamic faith, according to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. In fact, it was very Muslim of me to become a US Marine. Contrary to popular belief, there was zero conflict of interest between my Islamic faith and my US Constitution. So I served proudly and honorably.

Yet as I reflect on today's state of America, I begin to wonder. Did the America I always thought to be my America ever think the same of me? Was I as much American to my fellow Americans as everyone was to me? Did my service even really mean anything? Was "thank you for your service" just a bunch of talk that had little meaning for those Americans who seemingly can't get past a man born with tan skin, black hair, or who happened to choose Islam as his faith? And was my sense of internal pride, patriotism all an illusion? These are the questions creep up more and more often in my mind – questions I can't help but ask myself, but also questions I now put before my fellow Americans. Meanwhile, the President later tweeted, "those tweets were NOT Racist. I don't have a Racist bone in my body..."

Okay, sure. Maybe we got it all wrong. Maybe we read too much into tweets and comments. Or maybe our interpretation of the President's words was fused by internal bias. Fine, benefit of doubt given! Maybe I was wrong.

And then it had happened again. At a rally in North Carolina, the President doubled down on his rhetoric. This time there was no internal bias or misreading. His own supporters were confirming exactly what many of us had already been thinking. "Send her back," they chanted, referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The President stood silent. Not a word out of his mouth to tell his followers to stop.

I couldn't believe what I was witnessing. Americans were telling another American, and not just any American—a U.S. Congresswoman—to go back to where she came from. She hadn't been accepted. To them she wasn't American.

I'm not here looking for sympathy or even empathy here. I'm a US Marine veteran, built to take it. But I do worry for my America. Not just for me or my loved ones, but for each of the over 300 million fellow Americans who I still consider part of my extended family. Because I know too well that, hate, bigotry and xenophobia have only had one promise for any society that embraced them, at any point in history: wholesale self-destruction.

But don't worry, America I'm not going back anywhere. I'm staying right here, working hard to make America great again. And I don't mean the Donald Trump version.

Mansoor Shams is a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, the founder of MuslimMarine.org and a Member on the Council on Foreign Relations. Twitter: @mansoortshams

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​