People of the Book

When I heard the news from Fort Hood last Thursday, my heart sank.  Not only because of the terror and grief visited on this community of soldiers, but because of the undeniably Muslim name of the man accused.

When a man with an “American” name (ie, Germanic or Irish or Polish or Italian or Spanish or…) vents his madness on his fellow man, we don’t even see the man’s ethnicity or religious identity, looking straight past those details to the question of Why?  But let a man whose mind cracks for personal reasons carry a name redolent of the Middle East, and the instant assumption is: Terrorist.

This must be what Japanese people experienced during WWII, and Germans during the Great War.  (Along with Chinese and Philippinos and Asians in general, or Austrians and Swiss during the Great War—as now Sikhs and Palestinian Christians and other unrelated but be-turbanned innocents get slapped with the “Islamic terrorist” label.)  And one might indeed find a fractionally higher percentage of would-be terrorists among the Islamic American population than one would among, say, Buddhist Americans or Amish Americans, just as the chances of locating a Japan sympathizer in 1943 might have been a tiny bit higher among people by the name of Takahashi and Suzuki than among the O’Douls and Kaufmanns.

I adore the diversity of my homeland.  I cherish walking down the street and seeing faces all the color of the pigmentation spectrum, hearing accents from near and far, seeing hair that runs the gamut from floss-thin blond to wavy-copper to heavy-curly-black.  I find it startling to see a crowd, in person or in a picture, that shows a field of white faces, and am pleased that those pictures are growing increasingly rare.

We are a small, fragile world in a big, cold universe.  We are all brothers and sisters, with the closeness of a family—and all the animosity.

Hence, my sinking heart at hearing the name Nidal Malik Hasan connected with the shooting, a man whose troubles bonded with but went far beyond religious belief, whose dual nature as psychotherapist and madman is difficult to wrap one’s head around, and whose gunshots dialed the image of his community back eight years, to the fall of 2001.

We are people of the book.  This is a Muslim term, used to point out that Christians, Jews, and Muslims are all built upon the foundation of one set of scriptures, for the most part what Christians know as the Old Testament.  We do not agree with the interpretation the others make of the book, no more than we agree with the interpretations of others within our own religion, but we are children of one Book.

Islam means submission.  A Muslim is one who submits to the will of God.  And yes, there are those Muslims whose death-dealing fury makes a bitter irony out of the meaning, just as there are Christians whose espousal of violence flies in the face of the peace message carried by Jesus of Nazareth.

My son was a soldier for four years, and in the Guard for two.  He was based at Fort Lewis, not Fort Hood, and he was lucky enough to make it home unwounded.  On this Veteran’s Day, perhaps we can spend a moment of thought on the many stable, responsible, and patriotic Muslim soldiers wearing American uniforms, and give them a particular and fervent thanks for their persistence in serving the country they, and we, love.

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  1. TheMadLibrarian on November 11, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Where I live, the indelible patriotism of the 442nd and 101st Divisions is still remembered. Despite seeing many of their ethnic relatives stuffed into camps during WWII, these Americans of Japanese descent performed some incredibly heroic acts and served with distinguished honor.

    I like the saying, and I wish it were more true in fact than words about serving in the U.S. Army, “We don’t care what color you are outside; when you’re here, the only color is Army green.” That could be reasonably expanded to include religion, orientation, and a number of other hot buttons. If you are serving or have served to protect me, I don’t care if you are African-American, Muslim, or Martian; thank you. I owe you all a debt of gratitude.

  2. Donna on November 11, 2009 at 10:34 am

    Thank you Laurie, for pointing out that we are all human beings.

    It’s so easy to find reason for prejudice and bias; it’s so difficult to realize we actually all share a common value as people. Differences are there to be sure. These should be ways of adding flavor and interest to relationships because we should meet each other with respect and appreciation. That allows us the freedom for difference within the framework of acceptance – acceptance of the basic value of another person, of other people. That allows us to work together, to build together to live together; forming stable communities and countries. It allows the ability to respect the rights of every human being.

    We Americans are continually trying to achieve ideals we claim as a nation: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These work best when we remember they include the “individual” AND the “collective”. They are best when acted on together. Isn’t this – in large measure – what these wars we are remembering today were about – why they were fought? Doesn’t this have a great deal to do with “Freedom”?

    I’m also glad you pointed out that God is central to the 3 major religions you mentioned. This God, our Creator; as Judaism, Islam and Christianity agree, certainly values each human being, can we do any less? As we mourn for lost lives, remember the reasons these sacrifices were made, both good and bad, I stand with you in asking us to remember all of our Armed Forces personnel; praying with thanks for their service, asking for their safety amidst a difficult task, and remembering to seek the peace – which comes from God – that will resolve these conflicts and hostilities. Thank you for the service of your son and for all the sons and daughters who serve today.

    And, as pointed out, those of us who acknowledge God – who seek His face, we people of the Book – who wish to submit to His will; let us continue to search God, to know Him, to enact His will in our relationships and to live in harmony with His ways and with each person that He has made.

  3. Gail Lelyveld on November 11, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said. It is so easy in this world as it now is to go for the easy response. I am glad that you are making this statement, and I agree with you.

  4. Tim H. on November 11, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    When the dust settles, I think islam will be found to have very little to do with Major Hasan’s rampage, heretical interpretations of scripture to justify violence seems more common lately. The times are becoming altogether too interesting.

  5. Lauren L. on November 11, 2009 at 4:08 pm


    Thank you.

  6. Lamorna on November 12, 2009 at 3:38 am

    Excellent and timely article.

  7. Kerry on November 12, 2009 at 8:02 am


  8. Susan Ritz on November 12, 2009 at 8:57 am

    I highly recommend a film called Amreeka, about a Palestinian family that has emigrated to the U.S. and faces prejudice after 911. It’s both tough and tender with an immigrant’s perspective of our country as well as the problems they left behind on the West Bank. It is put out by national Geographic.

  9. Meredith on November 12, 2009 at 10:55 pm

    Amen. And from the newspaper reports, great heroism shown by those who went, nay, ran to help. Two cents in addition on behalf of psychotherapists everywhere. This poor man apparently went to college, med school and his psychiatry training under the aegis of the Army with the hope he would help his fellow soldiers. If you have a thorough professional training in “the talking cure,” or psychiatry which is the medical model side of it, your training should promote going to your own therapy. The idea is to be able to sort out your stuff from your patients’ stuff. You don’t have to be perfected, just well sorted.

    Something went so painfully wrong here. //Meredith

  10. annie on November 17, 2009 at 7:35 am

    Late, as ever, but wanted to honour a recent death; a British soldier in Afghanistan, who died defusing a bomb. His name was Olaf Schmidt. I don’t know his story, or how he got a name that 60 years ago would have marked him as the enemy.

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