On September 11, 2001, I lost my 23-year-old son, Mohammad Salman Hamdani, at the Twin Towers. A graduate of Queens College, he was also a first responder and an NYPD cadet who rushed down to rescue his fellow Americans — and gave the ultimate sacrifice.
He didn’t discriminate. He followed his heart, his humanity and his training to do his best to save those whose lives were in danger.
By contrast, across America today, we are witnessing the spectacle of politicians crassly exploiting the tragedies of Paris, Beirut and Russia for selfish political gains. Capitalizing on fear and the considerable ignorance about the Muslim faith among many of our citizens, they are in a rush to the bottom, driving a stampede of prejudicial proposals.
Quite the opposite of supporting their fellow Americans in a moment of crisis as my son did, many apparently see political gain to be had in selectively denying American Muslims their rights. If that weren’t ugly enough, many are equally ready to turn their backs on the finest American tradition of welcoming refugees fleeing violence, persecution and war.
Perhaps the worst of all is Donald Trump’s call to block all Muslims from entering the US, along with his suggestion that it might be necessary to shut down mosques and force all who share my faith to carry a special ID card and be registered in a government database. This is not some fringe candidate; it is the Republican Party’s undisputed front-runner.
When others pushed back against these proposals for their obvious parallels to prewar Nazi Germany, Trump did not back down. Instead, he further claimed that “thousands” of New Jersey Muslims cheered as the Twin Towers fell. He used this blatant lie to suggest the NYPD renew its spying program on local New York and New Jersey Muslims.
Let’s be clear here: by making such horrendous suggestions, Trump is generating fear and advocating hatred and violence against Muslims.
Going Against the Constitution
Sadly, he is not alone. Presidential aspirant Ben Carson has often echoed Trump, while Senator Marco Rubio has suggested that all Muslim gatherings are suspect and should be monitored. Senator Ted Cruz and Governor Jeb Bush, meanwhile, have suggested that Christian refugees should be given priority in entering the United States.
The president of the United States, like every member of Congress and every member of the armed forces, takes an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, the right of assembly and the right to be free from unlawful search are at the heart of our national identity.
To see politicians demonstrate contempt for our Constitution and advocate for policies with ugly precedents should outrage any citizen who has ever sworn that oath to the Constitution — as I did, when I became a citizen — and any American with a genuine respect for our most important values as a nation.
Perhaps more importantly, it should make clear that these politicians are unqualified to be president. Presidents take an oath to defend the Constitution.
On a personal level, I wonder whether any of these politicians has lost a child, a parent or a sibling in a terrorist attack. The pain of losing and burying your child is inexpressible. The feeling of incompleteness remains because my son Salman was a part of my body; every breath I take reminds me of him.
I wonder how, if he were alive today, he would respond to Donald Trump’s claims that “thousands” of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated his murder. I wonder what he would say to Trump and other vultures picking on the flesh of 9/11 and these other terrible tragedies.
Liberty and Justice for All
No one needs to tell me that we live in dangerous and fearful times. I live with that every day that I mourn the loss of my son. At the same time, we must never lose sight of what it is that will lead us to prevail. We need to uphold our American identity. Ultimately, this conflict is about who we are. We have to uphold our values. This may be hardest in tough times, but that is also when it is most important.
If we are truly to lead a successful struggle to address the threat posed to us all by violent extremists, if we are truly to be the leader of the world, then we cannot abandon our creed of advocating liberty and justice for all.
Talat Hamdani founded the Salman Hamdani Memorial Award at Queens College. To donate, go to tinyurl.com/hamdanifund. A version of this essay originally appeared in the New York Daily News.