EACH time a Muslim commits an act of violence, it reignites the debate about Islam and its followers. In these circumstances, with clockwork predictability, the right-wing propaganda machine gets in full swing to malign, defame, and deface the religion. They do not hesitate to castigate the entire Muslim population for sporadic criminal acts of a few.
These philosophical and political heirs of Joe McCarthy fill the airwaves and print media with their toxic and simple-minded rationalization. It would be comical were it not so dangerous.
Ten days ago, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, gunned down 13 innocent victims in Fort Hood, Texas. Major Hasan was there to be processed for deployment to Afghanistan.
Details of Major Hasan's life and his motives are sketchy but a partial portrait of the man is emerging. A devout Muslim, he was against the war in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also reported that he was taunted and made fun of by his fellow soldiers because of his religion. In fact, he did not want to go to Afghanistan.
The question arises as to whether Major Hasan was acting alone or was part of a conspiracy to undermine the interests of the United States.
Even a cursory look at the case and the surrounding circumstances tells us that the man acted alone to carry out the premeditated murders. His behavior, demeanor, and extremely orthodox views brought him to the attention of his colleagues and his superiors. He got a pass because the Army bent over backward to accommodate him. Sometimes political correctness can be devastating, as it was in this case.
This incident brings into question the loyalty of Muslims serving in the armed forces. Some pundits, including a few members of Congress, demanded that Muslims be barred from the service.
Muslims have been serving the U.S. armed forces since the Revolutionary War. One of my uncles served the United States in World War I. He was wounded, decorated, and retired as a colonel.
Currently there are at least 3,572 Muslims on active service in the U.S. armed forces. The actual numbers are higher because this figure is based on those people who chose to answer an optional question about their religious affiliation. Some organizations put the real numbers anywhere between 15,000 and 20,000. A great majority of them serve with distinction and find no contradiction between their faith and their work in the armed forces.
A good example is a local young man by the name of Rafae Hasan. He served as a Marine in Iraq, was wounded, and received a Purple Heart for his bravery. He considers it an honor to wear the uniform of a U.S. soldier. To him the actions of Major Hasan - he's no relation to the Fort Hood gunman - insult and demean that honor. A large number of Toledo Muslims have served in the armed forces, and a partial list of those patriots can be seen on a plaque in the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg.
So then, what differentiates one Hasan from the other? What are the reasons that induce one to wear the uniform with pride and the other to go on a rampage? Do different interpretations of religion play a role?
These are pertinent questions with no clear or ready answers. One thing is sure, however. Extreme orthodoxy of any kind lends itself to paranoia and feelings of frustration with society at large.
The seeds of xenophobia, paranoia, and extremism take a long time to come to fruition. These building blocks are put together years before society tastes the bitter fruit. Whether it is bigoted family talk around the dinner table, company of like-minded friends, or the cryptic talk of victimhood by some who attend mosques, they all lead to a feeling of anger and frustration.
The Muslim communities have been correct in condemning the actions of Major Hasan. But they have to go further. They must start thinking proactively and facilitate open debate on issues that are of interest to Muslims. Instead of further stoking the fires of distrust and frustration, such open discussion almost always leads to deeper understanding of the issues at hand. This could also help channel pent-up anger and frustration into meaningful and constructive dialogue. It would have a dampening effect on those who might harbor seeds of militancy.
Some of my readers and acquaintances and some non-Muslim friends often ask me why Muslims do not condemn such atrocities. Unless they have been living on Mars, they should have noted that Muslims do that and do it regularly. And they do it individually and collectively. What they have not done is to condemn their religion for the actions of the likes of Major Hasan.
On a personal level, I feel a deep moral obligation to help sustain a dialogue among Muslims and also between Muslims and non-Muslims on such issues.
One cannot live in a pluralistic society and act as if we live in a echo chamber where we only hear the reverberations of our own opinions and shrill voices.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org