Fort Hood Tragedy… Muslim Soldiers Speak Out
WASHINGTON – Several Muslims who have served or are currently serving in the military say the tragic deaths of 13 soldiers in Fort Hood, Texas, at the hands of Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan is an individual action that does not represent them, insisting that Muslims remain an integral part of the US military.
“There’s nothing we [in the military] can do about it,” Robert Salaam, a former Marine who reverted to Islam after 9/11, told IslamOnline.net.
“What Maj. Hasan did does not represent us,” he told IOL confidently.
Some 13 people were killed and 30 wounded late Thursday in Fort Hood military base when Major Hasan, an army psychiatrist, opened fire at fellow soldiers.
Hasan, who was born in the US to Palestinian parents, was shot and taken into custody after the attack.
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James Booth, a 26-year-old private serving his first tour in Iraq, was shocked and horrified by suspect Maj. Hasan’s shooting spree in Fort Hood.
He said the news spread fast amongst the soldiers stationed all around Iraq.
As he vehemently condemns the shooting, Jameel Malik, a lance corporal in the Marine Corps currently stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, says Muslims must stop being apologetic.
“Why should we apologize for something someone else did that does not represent Muslims in any way?” he told IOL.
There is no official count of Muslims serving in the 1.4 million-strong US armed forces because recruits are not required to state their religion.
But according to the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affair Council, there are more than 20,000 Muslims serving in the military.
“I am confident that my brothers and sisters in the army will react calmly and rationally to this terrible incident,” Booth said.
Qaseem Ali Uqdah, a 21-year Marine Corps veteran and a chaplain in the Air Force, says the tragedy must be treated as a criminal one.
Uqdah, who now heads AMAFVAC, is worried about a “witch hunt” following the Fort Hood killings.
Salaam, the former Marine, also fears many would not disassociate Maj. Hasan’s criminal actions from his faith.
“Starting today, it’s going to be hard,” he believes.
Though his experience when serving in the army was positive and though he believes that Muslim service members are a vital and loyal part of the military, Salaam fears the tragedy will cause problems of public perception.
“When I was serving, there were isolated incidents of people making offensive comments, but they were swiftly reprimanded,” he recalls.
“But when something like this happens, it’s hard to explain to people outside of the military that one man’s twisted motives do not speak for the thousands of Muslims serving their country.
“In the Marine Corp we say ‘God, Country, Corp.’ Those are concepts very synonymous with Islam. And when something like this happens, it’s like a major setback in [public] relations, because [people think] that we can’t even trust those who have given an oath to his country.”
Booth, who converted to Islam six months after joining the army and is serving in Iraq, does not share the fears of violence and a backlash.
“I am confident that my brothers and sisters in the army will react calmly and rationally to this terrible incident.”
He says the army has always been respectful of his faith.
Initially, he admitted, he was nervous to let on that he was Muslim.
“I would say I was going to the restroom when it was time for me to pray to avoid being detected,” he told IOL.
“Eventually I got tired of that and just told [my unit] that I was Muslim. Other than a few curious questions at first, I am treated just like everybody else.”
Malik, a 22-year-old who joined the Marines in 2007, said people don’t realize that the diversity amongst Marines and other service members holds them together.
“In the words of Colonel Douglas Burpee (a high-ranking Marine), ‘In the era of the war on terror, the example of a devout Muslim serving in the American Military is a heartening sign that highlights the difference between America and its self-appointed enemies in this conflict.'”
Muslims in the military say that the record of the thousands of Muslim-American soldiers who have sacrificed in the service of their country is proof enough that they are a vital part of the military.
Salaam, the former marines, insists that Muslim and non-Muslim soldiers have no problems with each other.
“It’s the political climate that drives the ‘Muslims in the military problem,'” he contends.
“If it was a problem, we wouldn’t see Muslim centers at military bases around the countries. We wouldn’t see Marines in their dress blues coming for Jummah prayers,” added Salaam.
“You can be religious and serve your country. Maj. Hasan’s actions should not eclipse all the good done by Muslims in the military.”
Reacting to attempts by conservative politicians to take the Fort Hood killings and extrapolate it to suggest Muslims shouldn’t be welcome in the military, Malik, the Marines corporal, says such politicians are simply uneducated about the true teachings of Islam.
“I would say to them the next time you hear about ‘Islamic terrorists ready to destroy America,’ be sure to recognize two things,” he said confidently.
“First that those terrorists have as much to do with Islam as the Klu Klux Klan had to do with Christ (peace be upon him).
“Second, recognize that you have an even more powerful military, one that also comprises of Muslims ready to defend America with everything they have, including their very lives.”