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.