Muslim Americans brace for backlash in the wake of Fort Hood tragedy

As soon as it became clear that the suspect in the shooting rampage at Fort Hood claims the Islamic faith, every Muslim organization of note put out a press release condemning the brutal attack that claimed the lives of 13 soldiers and sent more to hospital for treatment. Muslim spokespersons were on every TV channel and newspaper answering questions on what drove Major Nidal Malik Hassan to open fire on the soldiers he was supposed to care for, and to betray the institution that paid for his education and helped him become the psychiatrist he is.

There are those, both in the Muslim community and the public at large, who ask why should Muslim organizations and leaders feel compelled to condemn a crime that seems to happen repeatedly and whose perpetrators belong to all faith groups. When a person who happens to be a member of an established religion, say a Christian or a Jew, commits a crime, the media refers to him as a criminal and questions his act. When, however, the one who commits the crime happens to be a Muslim, the media refers to him as a Muslim and question his faith.

It sounds very logical indeed that in normal circumstances Muslim Americans should not feel that they have to issue press releases and convene press conferences every time a Muslim is involved in violence or crime. After all no other faith group do anything close to that. But Muslim Americans do not live under normal circumstances in post 9/11. Since the infamous terrorist attack hit mainland US, dozens of think tanks and hundreds of pundits, journalists, and talk-show hosts have decided to use their intellectual and oratorical skills to paint Islam and Muslims in the most negative color. Distorting Islam and demonizing its followers is the most recent cottage industry that promotes Islamophobia in the United States and Canada.

As soon as I heard of the fatal shooting at Fort Hood, two thoughts crossed my mind. My heart went to the families of young service men and women. The most traumatic experience any family could go through is to lose its loved one to a senseless killing. Learning that the alleged perpetrator of this heinous crime was a Muslim, I immediately thought of the backlash the Muslim community braces for every time a violent attack is associated with a person of the Islamic faith.

While some wonder why in the world should leading Muslim organizations condemn atrocities committed by a Muslim, people who know better understand that speaking out and publically reject violence and crime is a must for the followers of a religion that has been systematically demonized by professional Muslim bashers. Muslims must make their views known to their neighbors and fellow citizens, and must speak out and explain their values and beliefs as long as Islamophobia is part of the American experience.

Despite their concerted efforts, the smear-casters have not been able to drown the advocates of fairness and pluralism. Yesterday, General George Casey, the army chief of staff, cautioned against possible backlash directed towards Muslim soldiers and stressed the importance of safeguarding American pluralism. “I am concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers,” he said. “As great a tragedy as this was, it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well,” he added.

The Islamic society of North America (ISNA), the largest Muslim umbrella organization in the US and Canada, went beyond condemning the Fort Hood attack and announced today a special fund for the benefit of the families of soldiers killed in the attack. The fund is a collaborative effort among Muslim and interfaith organizations and is seen by Muslims as a natural expression of Islam’s call to compassion towards those who are experiencing adverse conditions. ISNA is asking Mosques across the country to encourage members to donate, but has also invited the general public to contribute to the fund.

I am personally confident that, as soon as the dust created by the rumbling of Muslim bashers settles and the smoke generated by anti-Muslim bigots disappears, Americans will realize that their Muslim neighbors work hard, like themselves, to raise good families and struggle to lead a morally upright and compassionate life. Until then, Muslims will have to continue to speak up and share their personal beliefs, values, and stories with their fellow citizens, using every available medium of communication.

Eventually, the truth will triumph, but till then the hard work and the struggle must go on!