#IWillProtectYou: Reinforcing American exceptionalism

#IWillProtectYou: Reinforcing American exceptionalism
American soldiers using #IWillProtectYou to comfort an 8-year-old Muslim girl fail to acknowledge that they are part of an institution that kills little boys and girls around the world.
4 min read
24 Dec, 2015
The US army kills children around the world at an alarming rate [AFP]

The day Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump announced his xenophobic proposal to ban Muslim entry into the US was not a normal day for an 8-year-old American Muslim girl from Texas named Sofia.

Her mother, Melissa Chance Yassini, explained the impact of Trump's remarks on her young daughter in a Facebook post.

"Sad day in America when I have to comfort my 8 year old child who heard that someone with yellow hair named Trump wanted to kick all Muslims out of America. She had began collecting all her favorite things in a bag in case the army came to remove us from our homes. She checked the locks on the door 3-4 times. This is terrorism. No child in America deserves to feel that way."

Within a matter of days, the post went viral and was seen by another mother and US army veteran Kerri Peek.

Peek sent Yassini a picture of herself in military uniform saying: "Salamalakum Melissa! Please show this picture of me to your daughter. Tell her I am a mama too and as a soldier I will protect her from the bad guys."

Peek then urged other US soldiers on Facebook to send similar pictures of themselves in uniform "with the hashtag #IWillProtectYou to let these children know that we will not hurt them. That they are safe here in America."

The hashtag quickly took off and began trending with many soldiers sending pictures of themselves with reassuring messages of support for the young Sofia.

At face value, this incident seems heartwarming and the kind of thing that comes up on your social media feed as "this will restore your faith in humanity," yet I was sickened by the whole episode.

The soldiers seeking to reassure this little girl are members of an army that has killed and continues to kill scores of little girls and boys in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere.

Upon reading the story of Sofia, I was reminded of Abeer Qassim al-Janabi, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who was gang-raped and killed in 2006 by five American soldiers.

Abeer lived some 200 meters away from a US army checkpoint in the town of al-Mahmudiya, on the outskirts of Baghdad, where the murderous soldiers would watch her doing her household chores and going about her daily life.

On 12 March 2006, five US soldiers from the checkpoint who had previously discussed raping the young girl stormed her house in broad daylight and separated her from her mother, father and 6-year-old sister Hadeel.

One of the soldiers stood guard while his friends raped the 14-year-old Abeer and killed her parents and younger sister. After being raped, Abeer was shot in the head and set on fire.

While the intentions of the soldiers who are posting #IWillProtectYou might be genuine, they fail to acknowledge that they are part on an institution that regularly kills children just like Sofia at an alarming rate.

How do Abeer and her 6-year-old sister Hadeel differ from 8-year-old Sofia from Texas?

The only difference is that Sofia by complete coincidence happens to be an American - one of the few nationalities in the world the US army seems to think of as human.

Many of the soldiers who expressed their support for Sofia inadvertently reiterated this point by stressing that they would protect "any American" as per their oath of service.

Such a statement is severely disturbing considering the US Army has bases and troops in some 150 countries around the world.

Another incident that proves this point is a personal encounter I had with an American soldier.

A few years ago, this American soldier came to my cramped London flat for brunch with a friend of mine who was visiting from abroad.

After we had finished our meal, I discovered that the gentleman who I had only met was an active duty soldier who had served a number of tours in Iraq - the country of my extraction.

Upon asking him about his experience, he spoke about how his family - an African American family with Native American heritage - viewed themselves as warriors and protectors of their people.

"We just had a meal together - am I not your people?" I enquired. "Are my aunts and uncles in Iraq not your people?"

The young man repeated that he protects his people without answering whether I was included in that arbitrary category. I was lost for words.

To those who are self-righteously posting #IWillProtectYou I ask, who will protect the Abeers, Hadeels and other brown and black children from the actions of your institution?

Follow Mohammad Ali Musawi on Twitter @malimusawi