What’s Faith Got to Do With it?

By Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

Just when relations between the United States and the Islamic world appeared to be improving slowly but decisively, thanks to President Barack Obama, it seems we are back to square one.

The Fort Hood shooting, allegedly by a second generation Arab American army psychiatrist killing 13 US Army men and women, has in one swift move undone all the hard work by Muslim Americans to bridge the gulf with mainstream America.

Since Obama took over, the US media and officials have been uncharacteristically restrained, avoiding references to religion in discussions and comments on the war on terror. All that is history now.

For the no holds-barred US media and the shrill Republican neocons, it’s as though Fort Hood has opened floodgates to all the anger, hatred and sheer malice towards Muslims pent up for sometime.

From personally blaming Obama for the attack to blasting politically correct pantywaists who are inviting the ‘Islamofascists’ to take over Christian, white America, the media and the bored Republicans have pounced on the usual suspects like hungry wolves.  

Kosher Joe Lieberman, who once dreamed of being the first Jewish president, wants the US military investigated for "dereliction of duty".  Republican Peter Hoekstra vows to unmask  "cover-ups in the White House." 

Columnist Michelle Malkin blasts the US Army for its "blind diversity" that embraces a faith like Islam, which "equals death." Another Jewish columnist Jonah Goldberg argues, "there’s a powerful case to be made that Islamic extremism is not some fringe phenomenon but part of the mainstream Islamic life around the world."

Conservative columnist Cal Thomas bemoans the calamity that the US government "at all levels has hired and promoted Muslims to influential positions. It now requires ‘sensitivity training’ for federal employees." 

Not to be left behind, televangelist Rev. Pat Robertson says: "Islam is a violent – I was going to say religion – but it’s not a religion. It’s a violent political system bent on the overthrow of governments of the world and world domination." 

Rupert Murdoch’s ‘fair and balanced’ Fox News is demanding "debriefing" – a euphemism for interrogation – of all Muslims in the US army. The American Family Association has gone a step further by demanding a total ban on all Muslims in the military. Its director Bryan Fischer justifies the call by saying this is not Islamophobia but "Islamo-realism." Fischer argues: "The more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security."

Going through all this, I wonder if this is the same country that elected the first black president with a Muslim father.  Is this the same America that prides itself as the land of the free and has always opened its doors to people from around the world regardless of their creed and color?

All of us in the Middle East and the Islamic world understand the pain and hurt Hasan’s mindless and totally reprehensible action has inflicted on the Americans.  We share the trauma of the families of victims. President Obama is right in pointing out that "no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts."

But this has nothing to do with Maj. Hasan’s faith or beliefs.  This is not the first time a US army man has turned on his comrades in arms.  The history of such incidents is as old as the US army itself.  The long and disastrous Vietnam war regularly witnessed such tragedies, which have been faithfully chronicled by numerous American writers and Hollywood movies.

As recently as May 11 this year, in a strikingly similar incident, a US soldier gunned down five fellow soldiers at a US base in Baghdad.  The only difference between that incident and the Fort Hood shooting is the identity of the attacker. The incident was hastily forgotten because the attacker was not a Muslim.

With America stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq for years, more than 200,000 troops have been battling on two fronts. Then there are thousands of others serving in the US bases across the world, from the Middle East to Africa to Europe to Asia. The US army is deployed in nearly 150 countries, with more than 369,000 of its 1,379,551 troops serving outside the country.

Clearly, the US military is spread dangerously thin. And the pressure is telling on America’s brave young men and women, with many of them going off the edge and snapping just as Hasan did.  Since 2007, more than 70,000 troops have been diagnosed with severe psychological trauma – more than 20,000 of them this year alone, according to the US Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.

So the Fort Hood tragedy wasn’t the first of its kind in the US history. And rest assured, it won’t be the last.  

Remember Timothy McVeigh, who remained defiant till the very end?  McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001 – three months before 9/11 attacks — for planning and executing the Oklahoma terror attack (April 19, 1995) that killed 168 people, many of them women and children.  

McVeigh was a white, Caucasian, all-American Christian male and served in the first Gulf War.  He had no enmity whatsoever with the people he killed in cold blood.   And he had no logical, apparent motives or political agenda either. Yet he snapped, just like Hasan has done.   

This is why it is so absurd to blame Hasan’s action on his faith. Son of Palestinian parents, as a psychiatrist Hasan had counseled hundreds of wounded and traumatized soldiers returning from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  

And in the process, it seems, he experienced and re-lived the trauma and horror of those he counseled. According to his family, Hasan was very worried about being deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  So when his worst nightmare of being deployed in Afghanistan this month finally came true, he snapped – just like many before him did.  

Hasan’s action has understandably come as a huge shock to the Americans. Many in the army though seem to understand Hasan’s violent outburst, even if they can’t condone it. 

Specialist Michael Kern, an active-duty veteran of the Iraq war, told Inter Press Service: "I knew something like this was going to happen given what else is happening – the war is coming home, and something needs to be done."

On the accusation that the attack was inspired by Hasan’s faith, Kern told IPS: "Most folks here think it’s just a soldier that snapped. This has nothing to do with him being a Muslim. There are thousands of Muslims serving with dignity in the US army!"

The attempts by the Jewish-controlled US media and politicians to paint all Muslims as extremist nuts looking for a chance to go berserk are therefore unfair and unreasonable.  This is especially unjust to a faith that warns if you kill one innocent man, you kill the entire mankind; and if you save one innocent life, you save the whole of humanity.

If the US media and politicians are indeed concerned about the well being of their men and women in uniform, they would persuade their commander-in-chief to declare ‘Mission Accomplished’ in Iraq and Afghanistan and bring home the troops.  This is the only way to prevent future Fort Hoods.  For this is not about faith. This is about America’s policies in the Middle East and around the world.

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aijaz@khaleejtimes.com

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