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The emails started coming into my inbox immediately after Colin Powell’s appearance on Meet the Press – and they weren’t just from Muslims. “Made me emotional,” said one person. “Inspirational,” wrote another. “It will make a difference,” claimed a third.
Powell has always played the good soldier, but on Sunday he became the ultimate statesman – insisting on our country’s core principles in the midst of a pitched partisan battle.
In a handful of sentences, General Powell named the whisper campaign against Muslims in this country for what is: un-American.
“Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?’ The answer is ‘No. That’s not America.’ Is there something wrong with some 7-year old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she can be president? Yet I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion he’s a Muslim and he might be associated with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America.”
It was the bit about the 7-year-old child that caught me most. It’s partly because I have a young son, and I don’t want his big American dreams to feel confined because he prays in Arabic.
And it’s also because of what Powell’s own journey represents.
Consider that Powell was born in Harlem in the 1940s to Jamaican immigrant parents. He was a black man raised in the South Bronx at a time when the country was arguing about whether people with his skin color had the right to vote.
Who looked at young 7-year-old Colin on a New York City playground and imagined him a General, or Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or Secretary of State? Think of the barriers of imagination that Powell had to overcome – his own, his nation’s – to achieve what he achieved.
The greatest tragedy in a country that speaks boldly of dreams is violations of imagination, narrowing of horizons. Powell experienced those violations himself based on his race, and on Sunday he did his best to make sure an emerging generation does not experience the same based on their religion.
It was a fine moment for a statesman, and a necessary affirmation of a sometimes fleeting dream.