Ft. Hood Killings Are an Act of an Individual, Not an Entire Community
New America Media, Commentary, Ray Hanania Posted: Nov 08, 2009
The most difficult thing is to say that Arab and Muslim Americans fear a backlash after an individual of Arab or Muslim background commits a horrendous crime, like the one we saw this week in the military facility in Texas.
Major Malik Nadal Hasan, an Arab and a Muslim, is alleged to have murdered 13 fellow military personnel in cold blood and wounded 30 more at Fort Hood Thursday.
That incident is probably one of the worst acts of violence in the minds of many Americans, one where the suspect’s Arab and Muslim heritage has become an issue like it did when terrorists brought down the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001. The idea that a member of the “military family” could turn his gun on his military colleagues is despicable.
But what Hasan allegedly did is something that should not reflect poorly on Arabs or Muslims. His race and religious background may or may not have played a factor in his crime, but they are not a reflection on the behavior of the millions of Arabs and Muslims who call America their home. The majority of them are shocked about the killings, like the rest of America is.
But some Americans are now arguing that Arabs and Muslims should be banned from serving in the military to “prevent” this kind of violence from occurring again.
This kind of knee-jerk reaction is one we have seen repeatedly over the years, even before the 9/11 attacks. Arabs and Muslims in this country have been the target of extreme racist and hateful animosity, going back to the time when an Arab first set foot on American soil, in the middle of the 19th Century.
The hate backlash against Arabs and Muslims is the result of the political debates about such issues as the war in Iraq, the Arab-Israeli conflict and more. I wonder why Americans don’t hold individuals of other races to the same standards when they commit acts of violence?
Tragically, the day after the Ford Hood massacres, a man named Jason Rodriquez shot and killed a co-worker and wounded five others at an engineering firm. Yet, his ethnicity was never mentioned as a possible factor in his decision to kill.
Using the logic applied by right wing radio and TV talk show hosts when it comes to Hasan, does this mean that Hispanics should be banned from working as engineers?
The reality is that thousands of Arabs and Muslims have served in the military, including myself. I served during the Vietnam War and have both an honorable discharge and a Vietnam Era Service ribbon, among other recognitions. Bigotry and racism existed in the U.S. Air Force even when I served in it in the early 1970s. My colleagues called me such names as “sand nigger” and “camel jockey.” Officers and enlisted personnel challenged me: “Who’s side will you be on if we have to go fight in the (1973) Arab-Israeli war?” they would ask.
Among my best friends in the military were two Muslim brothers who suffered similar taunts. Yet, those incidents did not discourage me from continuing my service in the Illinois Air National guard for 10 more years.
The difference is that the pre-Sept. 11 form of discrimination generally did not lead to violence as it does today. Most of those who are engaging in the hate-filled talk to ban Arabs and Muslims from the military are in fact not going to act out their hatred. But it only takes one person.
After Sept. 11, 2001, more than 12 people who “looked” Middle Eastern were killed at the hands of individuals who, in many instances, said that they were avenging the terrorists’ attacks.
The U.S. government is not doing enough to change people’s attitudes. Arabs and Muslims continue to get short shrift from the federal government when it comes time to be counted by the U.S. Census. We are categorized as “white,” and therefore, unlike other recognized minorities, are not protected under hate crime laws when we are confronted, for example, by racial stereotyping in incidents involving police traffic stops and ticketing.
Arabs and Muslims have the highest incidence of racial profiling at U.S. airports, with Arab and Muslim names dominating the Federal Aviation Administration's no-fly list.
We do not know exactly how many Arabs and Middle Easterners there are in the military, but we do know there are 3,550 muslims who serve in it. And most people do not seem to understand that not all Arabs are muslim.
The Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in Military (www.APAAM.org), of which I am a proud member, has estimated that there are about 3,500 Arabs of both Muslim and Christian faith serving in the military.
The terms “Arabs” and “Muslims” are often misused in the American media. They treat them as if they are interchangeable. I have been demanding that the U.S. Census should have separate categories for Arabs and Muslims. After all, it now identifies 29 ethnic and racial groups -- from African Americans to Hispanics to Togans, Chicanos and Native Americans. One way to prevent another Fort Hood massacre from happening is for federal agencies to acknowledge as, such as in the U.S. Census.
America should be a melting pot of rich diversity and cultural pride, not a meltdown of hatred based on a lack of education or fear.
And while we grieve for the families of the victims of Fort Hood, we should re-assert our values as a diverse nation to protect others from becoming victims of anger and hate.
(Ray Hanania is the 2006 winner of New America Media’s Best Ethnic American Columnist award. A Palestinian American, Hanania hosts a morning talk radio show in Chicago that focuses on Middle American and Middle East issues. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com)
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