Nidal Malik Hasan, an American Muslim from the East Coast serving as a psychiatrist in the U.S. Army at Ft. Hood, went on a random and bloody shooting spree that killed 13 innocent people and wounded another 31 unsuspecting Americans yesterday (11/5/09) at Ft. Hood, Texas.  Americans of all points of view and from all walks of life and points of view have added their opinions over the past 24+ hours.

AMERICAN MUSLIM RESPONSE

Three major national American Muslim organizations, all mainstream and reputable, released statements immediately after word of the horrific attacks made the news.  The Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American Islamic Relations all spoke out quickly and clearly in statements that condemned the massacre of innocent fellow Americans (read more here).

That is important.  These organizations, collectively, represent the voice of mainstream Muslims and authentic Islam in America.  But there are grassroots organizations like mosques and even individual American Muslim who are also making their voices heard.  These are voices that need to be heard by all Americans.

A West Point Graduate, a Physician and an American Muslim in Afghanistan React

To be clear, I am talking about one individual here.  Dr. Imad Haque is a surgeon in the United States Army and is currently serving in Afghanistan.  I was able to reach Dr. Haque via email yesterday.  I asked him if he would share his reaction to the Ft. Hood massacre.  I did not know he had been deployed to Afghanistan when I emailed him.

Dr. Haque responded to my email last night.  This is Dr. Haque’s first message to me:

Junaid-

Salams. Good to hear from you… alas it is under such circumstances…Waking-up in Afghanistan- I just heard about the events at Ft.Hood. I will get my thoughts together and get you something in a few hours from now.Thanks again for your message.

Imad

About 14 hours later – mid-morning on Friday for me – I got another message from Dr. Haque.  His first concerns and thoughts were for the victims and their families.  This is what Dr. Haque wrote to me – from his deployment in Afghanistan – about his initial feelings:

Salams Junaid-
Well it’s been a long contemplative day here-as a Soldier, a Doctor and a Muslim. My first feelings go out to the victims. Having been in a pre-deployment center very much like the one at Ft.Hood only a few months ago- I can only imagine the terror the victims must have experienced. My next thoughts are for the families that will be notified about the death or injuries of their loved ones. Then I think of my colleagues at Darnell, Scott and White and Methodist Hospitals who do what I do for a living- operate and try to save the lives put in jeopardy so senselessly. I prayed today for all of them.

Maybe I am reading more into this than Dr. Haque intended but I found it notable that he described himself as a Soldier first.  And that he took time today to pray for all those who were affected is a testament, in my opinion, to the strength of his faith.  Dr. Haque then turned his attention to the proverbial elephant in the room – Nidal Malik Hasan:

After these thoughts subside- my next thought is for my fellow military, American-Muslim physician. A career track not dissimilar to my own. Born to immigrant parents. Attending elementary and high school here. His choice of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences reflected a real commitment to the military and his country.

As a physician that has deployed and has cared for American Soldiers at nearly every level of care in the military health system- from a level II Aid Station to major hospitals in Germany and at home- my next question is what went wrong? What happened to my colleague that led him to undertake such an unspeakable act? I am not a psychiatrist by training- but I certainly remember the most basic tenants of the field- identify a patient if they represent a threat to themselves orothers. This is one of the most basic concepts in his field- yet he was unable to control these thoughts or have the insight to seek help.

Two men with similar backgrounds and upbringing and a seemingly shared commitment to service and yet two very different responses to the call to serve in a war zone.  Dr. Haque is deployed in Afghanistan faithfully serving his country while Nidal Malik Hasan lays in a hospital bed under constant guard awaiting a military tribunal that will ultimately decide his guilt or innocence. 

What is it about Dr. Haque that drives him to serve, far away from his beautiful family, while his fellow soldier and co-religionist resorted to a horrific homicidal rampage?  I think the last part of Dr. Haque’s email sheds some light on this last question – the question of what motivates him to be a dedicated Soldier in the United States Army and a devout Muslim at the same time:

As a Muslim, Physician and Soldier- I chose to serve my country because of the opportunities it has afforded me. Most profound of these is the Freedom to be a Muslim and practice my faith more freely than anywhere in the world. Though I may not agree completely with all foreign policy decisions made or how they are executed- I do my duty as a soldier. As a citizen, I have an equally important duty to exercise my right to chose and change my leaders if I feel they do not represent my beliefs- not through the end of a gun- but through the very Islamic concept of Democracy.

I’ve known Dr. Haque – Imad – since we were both kids playing baseball at recess during the summer-long, day-long Islamic school we attended together at the Islamic Foundation Mosque & School in Villa Park, Illinois in the 1980s.  We lost touch over the years and reconnected via Facebook recently.  I’ve always thought it was laudable that he chose a life in the military.  But until now I’ve never really understood what an asset he is to us – to all Americans.  That is because he is a real life example of an American Muslim living the ideal of patriotism and God-consciousness together in harmony.  Outstanding indeed Imad!

Another American Muslim physician and a living, loving example of Islam

Dr. Hesham Hassaballa, a medical doctor in Chicago and another dear friend, shared his private thoughts and emotions in the wake of the Ft. Hood murders.  Dr. Hassaballa, like me and Imad, has lived his whole life in America and is now raising his own family as distinctly American Muslim.  All Americans should take the time to read Dr. Hassaballa’s thoughtful reflections on God, faith and the vision of the peaceful coexistence of all people at his blog – God, Faith, and a Pen: Living in the Light of His Love.

In reflecting on Nidal Malik Hasan’s murders yesterday Dr. Hassaballa wrote this:

My heart, my thoughts, and my prayers go out to the families of the brave soldiers who died at the hands of this barbaric murderer. Their sacrifice and loss is no less noble, no less important, no less appreciated than the loss of a fellow American in battle overseas. As a parent who has lost his own child, I know far too well the pain of the parents right now who have come to the horrific realization that they will outlive their child. May God be with them all.

I appreciate Dr. Hassaballa’s blog posts because he puts himself out there completely for the sake of promoting greater understanding between people of different faiths.  This past summer he lost one of his children, a beautiful little daughter, to a long term battle with a crippling disease.  Most people (myself for certain) would be loathed to put that hurt out in the public’s eye, but Dr. Hassaballa does just that, and he does this so that he can connect with us on the most intimate and personal level.  I challenge even the most hard-hearted extremists – of any faith or no faith at all – to be unmoved by Dr. Hassaballa’s commentary.

EXTREMIST RESPONSES

The Islamophobes are, of course, foaming at the mouth over this tragedy at Ft. Hood.  The individuals over at places like “The Jawa Report” do not seem to care much for the victims so long as they can take unsubstantiated shots at any and all Muslims.  If you are an upstanding Muslim indivdual or organization then the “writers” at this blog will do their best to sully your name by labeling you a front for the Muslim Brotherhood. 

And then there are the Debbie Schlussels of the world.  The idea of driving more eyeballs to her vile website gives me pause but it is important for honest and decent people to see the unmitigated hate that some folks are spewing online and on talk radio (I believe Ms. Schlussel is keen to promote herself there and where ever else she can get some attention)(read more about Ms. Schlussel here and here).

The gist of these anti-Muslim and Islamophobic extremists’ argument is that since Nidal Malik Hasan is a Muslim then his murders are, ipso facto, terrorism.  It does not get any more bigoted and narrow-minded than that.

But alas, Muslims are not ones to be out done in the extremism department.  At the discussion forum of the notorious Hizb ut Tahrir one commentator said this of Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous actions:

To be honest, a lot of people cast doubt on the iman of a Muslim who agrees to join the British or American army but I see this as a good thing that there must have been some iman in there for him to take such a big step as this.

So, according to this person who is described as a “senior member” of the discussion forum at Hizb ut Tahrir, Nidal Malik Hasan’s homicidal rampage is a sign of his faith?  People of sincere faith know that this is an absurd notion but it does not stop extremists from espousing it and promoting it.

OTHER RESPONSES

In addition to the American Muslim response and the extremists’ response there was also quite a bit of thoughtful reflection from columnists, interfaith leaders and friends and neighbors from coast to coast.  A friend of mine wrote on my Facebook page:

I’m just so upset that we have to defend this maniac’s religion in the first place. After all, no one asks me to defend Timothy McVeigh….It’s just a clear commentary on where the Muslim-Arab population (and those perceived as such) stand these days. We all know killing people is wrong. Why should anyone have to apologize?!

Essentially this friend was responding to an earlier blog post and some other comments that were posted on Facebook in response to the blog post.

John Nichols of The Nation weighed in very early yesterday with a very thoughtful piece entitled “Horror at Fort Hood Inspires Horribly Predictable Islamophobia”.  In the article Mr. Nichols said:

The point here is not to defend the soldier or his alleged actions — the evidence at hand suggests that he was, at the least, a deeply troubled man whose statements and actions should have raised concerns among his superiors long before Thursday’s incident. By Friday, there were news reports that he shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great”) before opening fire. There was clearly something wrong with this imperfect follower of Islam. But that does not mean that there is something wrong with Islam.

These comments, one from a friend posting a note of support, solidarity and encouragement on Facebook and the other from  The Nation news magazine, a major news and opinion publication, illustrate that the responses to the heinous murders at Ft. Hood do not have to be couched in anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric to be fair and balanced.

CONCLUSION

It has been a day and half since the shootings.  We still have a lot to learn about Nidal Malik Hasan.  Hopefully he will survive and will stand trial.  In this short time we have seen a wide range of reactions both good and bad, accurate and inaccurate.  It is important for us as a pluralistic, diverse nation to understand these events and to process them in a way that is fair and reasonable, not because it is good for American Muslims, but because our future ability to coexist in peace depends on it.