Same book, different message
Politics is an amusing thing or so I am truly learning. The mass killing and terrorism caused at the hands of Army Major Hassan in Fort Hood last week created varied reactions, opinions, and emotions throughout America and the world. Fortunately or Unfortunately, depending on who you ask, I have been caught up in the firestorm of rhetoric as well. The overwhelming feeling across the nation is outrage which is understandable, but how we channel that outrage has been the most interesting thing to emerge in the discussion. Many like myself chose to condemn this murderer outright and encourage prayer and support for the victims and the country, however many others began to take sides and point fingers. This is where I may have gotten myself in trouble as I just happen to have been one of those who thought it just a little absurd that suddenly or really once again, 1 billion people were accused for the actions of one individual whom we didn’t even know like most until he committed his crime. I just happen to be one of those people who thought I shouldn’t have to apologize for another’s actions, especially due to the fact that he claimed to follow the same religion and in an odd twist of fate attended the same mosque that I do. I even went as far as to label those who wanted to apply this standard to Muslims that they would not apply to themselves in a similar fashion, hypocrites, as that was the only word I knew that described such people.
I caught flak from the left and the right, from Muslims and non-Muslims, and even some members of my family were divided on my CNN interview! However, even after a weekend of intense reflection, fear concerning my person and family, and doubt about my actions, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot bite my tongue and if people don’t like my words on my blog, than that is their problem. I never claimed to be an expert, a definitive source, or a scholar in either politics or religion. I am one man who decided several years ago to share my opinions with those who cared to read, because I believed then as I do now, that the biggest issue in this never-ending debate is our relationships with one another as Americans and ultimately all of humanity. I firmly believe that what separates us and causes the reactions we tend to have toward one another especially when faced with tragedies such as this one, is our lack of knowledge about each other. If we but knew one another, we could understand one another, and if we understood one another, we could move beyond hating or wishing ill-will toward one another. I believe what is missing is the human touch.
To that effect, one of my main themes with my efforts online and in public such as this blog, my radio show, the American Muslim Interactive Network (AMIN) and other projects, is to get the word out that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims and to a greater extent Muslims in general, are really not that much different than anyone else. Many of us are your average Joe like I am, who has to raise and provide for a family, who has a day job, and for entertainment contrary to popular belief are not planning to destroy non-Muslims, but most likely spend more time watching movies, playing video games, or reading sci-fi novels, all while wondering how to feed five growing boys, support a daughter who’s approaching womanhood faster by the second, and wondering through all this how to keep them all insured and send them to college. But more on that later…
What often disturbs me most of all in the discussion, is what I view as the total illogical attitudes many have toward Muslims. Take for instance the title of my inconsistent rant today “Same book, different message”, I mean to me at least, it should be a no-brainer. Of course, it’s entirely feasible that two people can read the same book and get two different messages from it. Now imagine 1 billion people! Seriously, I have to laugh in order to stop crying, which is why I tend to be a little sarcastic and have a dark humor. I just don’t get it with some people. If you think the comments I received on this blog is bad, you should see my in box, or the comments to the many articles published online where “Robert Salaam” is mentioned. It’s truly heart wrenching, because as a real person who loves his country, loves his faith, and is just giving an opinion, it’s troubling that people can hate because they don’t agree and because they don’t understand. I look at my at my 3 year old and wonder if he will have to contend with an America like this one when he’s 29 and it absolutely frightens me. As I told the AP reporter (of course none of this made the final cut), your talking about a guy who still stands at attention when he hears the national anthem or the Marines Hymn, even if sitting on the couch in his pajamas. One could go into my closet right now and see my uniforms inspection ready, my Alpha’s, Blues, and Cammies all ready to go as if I’m still in the Corps. When I found out this killer was a Muslim, I was playing Halo on my Xbox, when my iPhone buzzed with an OMG email from Sheila Musaji at The American Muslim (TAM). I share all this because I believe that I’m not unique. There are thousands of Muslims out there right now like me, who are devout practicing Muslims, who are more concerned with their Xbox Live achievement scores than they are with what non-Muslims are doing, who are more concerned with buying a house in this market, than they are about spreading Islam in America, and who could no more care about harming anyone, than they are about the neighbor who put out their trash too early on trash night. This is the really for the overwhelming number of 1 billion followers of Islam. That’s why I have to admit it does hurt when I see my loyalties are questioned on this site or that. I remember taking my children to the Sunset Parade in Arlington this summer, reminding them to be mindful of those brave men and women who died in the very cemetery that we passed through, chastising them for daring to utter a word on hallowed ground, I remember standing at attention with pride and hoisting my boys up to get a closer look at the silent drill team and the Marine Band, yet on this blog and elsewhere on the net, I am called a traitor, I am told I spit on the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor that I proudly earned, and many of the very ones making these allegations, haven’t even served this country in any capacity, but I digress….
Bare with me, you know what blog your reading…
My overall point is this:
Muslims are too diverse to be placed in a box, labeled, and accused for every indiscretion, horror, and tragedy committed by another Muslim. But that’s the reality of any faith group, ethnic group, nation, etc. Common sense reminds us of that, yet in anger and in haste, many want to dump this incident along with many others at the feet of 1 billion people and ask us to explain, ask us to apologize, and ask us to fix it as if they do the same thing? If it is true that this Major Hassan believed he was doing the will of God and even shouted God is Great, than the reality is that it’s equally true that other Muslims like myself believe they are doing the will of God when we live our lives in peace shouting Allahu Akbar many times a day in prayer and even when your son learns a new word.
The question is how do we deal with this reality? How is it both possible that some claim a religion and become murderers while others can claim the same religion and become great men and women? I mean it’s ridiculous when you think about it, because everyone does it everyday. There are roughly 300 million people in America, claiming a myriad of religious traditions or no religion at all, yet look at our crime rates, poverty, etc. Does that speak more of the religion, country, or the people themselves? Do we blame certain ethnic groups as a whole for crimes that may be more prevalent in their communities than others? Do we consider that just?
The truth is, whether Muslim or non-Muslims choose to accept it, out of 1 billion plus people who claim to be Muslim, there are those who are:
are a Mac
are a PC
Hope that Navy creams Army
Hope that Army beats Navy
Went to Harvard
Went to Yale
etc. etc. etc.
But isn’t that the case with all people?
So I ask, what do we do from here? What have we learned? Has it made us any better as Humans?
Major Hassan is a murderer, his actions were treacherous, treasonous, and appalling to the highest degree. He betrayed his fellow soldiers, his fellow Americans, and yes his fellow Muslims. He has caused unnecessary grief and sadness for the victims, their families, friends, the larger community at Ft. Hood, America and the World, and we seem to forget that he has wrought the same even upon his family. As a parent, I know I would be distraught if this were my son. Who’s to blame here outside of Maj Hassan? Do we blame those in the Army who noticed that things weren’t right with him? Do we blame the FBI who according to some reports may have been watching his activity as of 6 months ago, do we blame the local Imam who even thought he was troubled? Do we blame the Imam at the Mosque I attend regularly where Hassan supposedly attended as well, or do we take the radical step and lay the blame not a the feet of an inanimate religion and it’s 1 billion followers, but at the feet of the madman who personally decided to pull the trigger that day? In reality, no one can be punished either in this life or the hereafter but Maj. Hassan, so why is Robert Salaam and his family and the families across the globe like mine to blame? I wasn’t in Texas that day, I have never even been to Texas.
Am I saying as some will certainly twist that Hassan and others have not based their actions on interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith? Nope, not at all.
What I am saying that when using that argument to further discourse is that one should carefully consider the reality that a billion others look at that same Qur’an and Hadith and base their non-violent daily activities as well.
I mean this isn’t exactly rocket science. How many today will readily admit that black people are cursed as written in the Bible? Few, yet it has and can be done. How many today will readily admit that it’s OK to kill every living thing in order to secure Israel as the homeland for the Jews? Few, yet it has and can be done.
So why does it seem so far fetched to some that there are those “Muslims” out there who can read the exact same Qur’an I do and decide that for them it says to kill all non-Muslims?
Obviously, the discourse into exegesis, theology, and Tafsir in general is more complex than I’m presenting, and then most would have to contend with the myriad of declarations by respected scholars in Islam against terrorism, to begin to scratch the surface of such a complex subject.
The point is, that there are going to be those who follow religion and see peace and tranquility and there are going to be others who see a catalyst for death and destruction. I just happen to be in the majority opinion when it come the interpretation of the religion of Islam, if I were not, I’m certain, it would be much worse if a billion people were waging war against the world would it not?
Lastly, at least for now,
One cannot ignore the fact that culture often has a role in religious application, understanding, and overall practice. Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Americans don’t have a different worldview than say Japanese. There are cultural experiences, nuances, etc. that are best left to the classroom but that many understand on the surface. Also, within these nations exist, sub cultures that within specific ethnic, tribal, and sometimes class groups. This of course is more prevalent in the West or in this example America of course more so, than other nations.
That said, do we really not think that maybe just maybe the way a black Muslim in Harlem understands the Qur’an maybe slightly or maybe even dramatically different than a white Muslim in San Diego, a Japanese Muslim in Tokyo (yes they exist), or a Pakistani Muslim in Islamabad? Certainly we should, but is this really part of the discussion? Do we not realize that Muslims are not isolated from cultural realities, attitudes, behavior, dress, etc. as everyone else?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we don’t all dress alike, speak alike, think alike, and BELIEVE alike.
I happen to be American. This is my country of birth. My forefathers, built this country on their backs and often at the pain of a whip. We did not come here seeking a better life, education, or milk and honey, my ancestors were sold and forcefully brought here. So my worldview is a “little” different. But I love this country. My family in the past and even today have served in the Armed forces as far back as WWI, My first cousin is in Iraq as I type these words, but my family is no different than many other American families. I’m not the first or only Muslim who raised their right hand pledging an oath to “protect and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic”, I’m not the first or only Muslim Marine who pledged “I am an NCO dedicated to training new Marines and influencing the old”, nor will I be the last. The majority have DD214’s like mine that states HONORABLE DISCHARGE and several have given the ultimate sacrifice and are buried in Arlington Cemetery.
This is the reality. We can either accept that Muslims are not one evil bloc, or we can accept that out of 1 billion Muslims there are those who are evil and rotten to the core. How to fix this is no easier than the questions I ask as a black man in America who have to contend with the issues we face. Maybe the solution(s) are the same in both situations that affect me, who knows, I happen to lean toward education and good ole fashion parenting as the primary lines of defense, I can no more support the interment and expulsion of all Muslims from the US or the US Military as I could those who wanted to send all blacks to Africa, let’s be real, many a serial killer, rapist, etc. was baptized, accepted communion, etc. and we call it like we see it, they are sick individuals and even while those like Jim Jones swore he was following the Bible even to the end, most Christians disagreed, and what is equally true is that while Osama Bin Laden and others claim to justify their actions in the Qur’an most Muslims also disagree.
Maj. Hassan had some serious issues. The story is not over. Who knows maybe the taunting, deployment fears, etc. just caused him to snap. Maybe he was just crazy to begin with. Maybe he was convinced on the net after reading and posting in radical (their called radical for a reason) message boards. Maybe it’s combination of all the above in varying degrees, or maybe it’s just something we never thought of and will soon find out. Who truly knows except Hassan and God? What we do know is 2 million plus Muslim Americans are not currently committing these actions nor have they in the past.
Let’s not forget that our troops and their families are bearing the brunt of decisions made by politicians in DC that affect them in the world in often tragic ways. This violence no less easier. Suicide rates, divorce, PTSD, and many other issues plague our Armed Forces in a reality of multiple back to back deployments, fighting an enemy that is increasingly harder to discern. Let’s not also forget that for many Afghan’s and Iraqi’s, there countries have seen wanton violence and destruction for almost 8 years in the case of Afghanistan and 7 for Iraq, and that’s only since we deployed troops there. So let’s not convince ourselves that these realities are not taking their toll on the mindset of individuals on both sides. The question is what are we going to do about it?
What we need to do is pray. Pray for the victims, pray for the families, pray for this nation, and pray for the world.
May God grant us strength, patience, and compassion.