Please Do Not Call! On Being A Muslim American When Tragedy Strikes

I woke up last Friday morning, the day after an army doctor killed and wounded over forty people in Texas, to seven urgent messages on my voice mails. All were from news organizations anxious to quote the Muslim community's reaction to the recent heinous killings of Army Dr. Nidal Malik Hasan. They all wanted my reasons for what drove a 39-year-old Muslim to go on a killing spree. "Isn’t he a native born," someone pointed out, “did not he take an army oath to obey his command and serve his country” “he's an educated man, he's a doctor." What triggered him to do it?

It took but a few moments to figure their reasoning for calling me. For I have been called before to reflect on acts of terror committed by fellow Muslims here and around the word. Truthfully, I was expected to again disassociate myself from the killings and secondly to explain what Islam is. I guess I fit their criteria of a person who has these qualities: I am a Muslim American of Palestinian descent. Consequently, I know what each one out of the 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe is thinking or doing at any given moment.

"Hey, Dr. Assaf, pardon the annoyance so early in the morning. Another one of your people killed innocent Americans. This will be a big story again as you have come to expect. As a leader in your community, as a practicing Muslim, can you share your response to the recent carnage? I was wondering if you're feeling less of a Muslim when you learn about crimes committed by a fellow Muslim. Can we send our television crew to record your response?”

I almost wanted pull whatever grey hair is left on my head; I wanted to scream so loud that a deaf man could hear me. Why is my opinion so important or even newsworthy? How many times do I need to so publicly and unconditionally condemn violence and terrorism against innocent civilians? How many times do I need to state that more Muslims have been the victims of terrorism than members of other faiths. How forcefully do I need to say that my religion does not condone violence, by reminding myself and my reporters of the Quranic verse that says: “If you kill one innocent life, God will punish you as if you have killed all of humanity; if you saved one life, the Lord will reward you as if you have saved all of humanity.”

Why do I have to atone or account for the despicable acts of fellow Muslims with whom I have no contacts or relations? Why conversely, am I not rewarded or at least acknowledged for the thousand and one acts of kindness performed by fellow Muslims everyday? I am not a lesser Muslim because of the acts of a few extremists who may profess my faith. Does it make a person less of Christian because Timothy McVeigh and Adolf Hitler were Christians? Does it make a person less of a Jew because Dr. Baruch Goldstein- an educated man, a doctor, a practicing Jew- who massacred thirty Moslems in a mosque- was a Jew?

I'm utterly hurt and profoundly burdened by implications and the frequency of these questions from media outlets whenever some lunatic Muslim decides to commit a random act of violence. Or in this case when a soldier psychiatrist goes berserk.

Similarly, I am disillusioned by many in my community, claiming to be appointed experts on Islam who need to explain it so frequently as a religion of peace- as if other religions are instruments of war and violence. How often have we reminded ourselves and the world that OUR faith is that of peace? Are we implying that other faiths are not advocates of peace as well? When are we, American Muslims, truly ready to declare that followers of Islam as with Christianity and Judaism have, can and will so desecrate their faith's commandment, so misinterpret them that they will kill in the name of their faith? Won't this admission lead to less killing, less distrust and more understudying?

Alas, here is all know about Hasan: (I learned all from newspapers and CNN.)

It appears this GI was a psycho himself who was deeply troubled by the dichotomy of serving his country in a war he could not justify. The motivation for this confusion could have come from a discontented conscience, a misreading of his faith or some other factors. Thousands of soldiers encounter this dilemma and they opt to leave the Army or their post office. But only a few so violently express their anger and disorientation by causing havoc upon others. It is a cowardly act deserving immeasurable condemnation but also much of medical care. Hassan is a coward because he could have chosen to face his superiors and asked to be discharged from the Army. I despise all the Hassans of the world because their actions give excuses to reporters to harass me, to others to question my loyalty and doubt my patriotism.

I recall while talking to an editor of a large NJ paper, I wondered if my name was on their reporters’ hot list of people to call only whenever Muslim kill or bomb something around the world. I pleadingly, asked if he would ever consider calling me to comment on such trivial issues as my views on school choice, on my ever rising property taxes, on traffic hurdles. He almost innocently admitted that he has been so conditioned to think of me only as an Arab and a Muslim, not as a concerned and a taxpaying citizen who also worries about the environment, white collar crime, and political corruption. I have thus been stripped of my physical existence and reduced to something “other”, foregin, and un-American.

All of us, citizens of this great land are forever left with the tormenting question of explaining or justifying actions of a soldier who refuses to be shipped to a war he so detests. We should honestly worry about what makes any citizen hate his country so intensely that he is ready to sacrifice his life to express his anger? Till then, please do not call me. For, like you, I have not the answer.

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About Dr. Aref Assaf

Dr. Aref Assaf has a doctorate in Political Science and International Law. He is president and founder of American Arab Forum, AAF, a non partisan think-tank specializing in advocating positive image of the American Arab community. Dr. Assaf was also a founding member of ADC-NJ Chapter and has served as its media chair for five years before serving as its president in 2004. He was also elected and served for one year as Board Member of the American Palestinian Congress. Dr. Assaf serves on and is a member of several state, national boards and academic organizations. These includes the American Society of Political Science and the American Society of International Law. Dr. Assaf is currently serving a second three-year term as a member of the New Jersey Governor’s Ethnic Advisory Council. His selection was the first of its kind for an Arab American to serve on this statewide council. Dr. Assaf writes frequently in several New Jersey papers about contemporary American Arab issues and perspectives. He has appeared on many television programs such as CBS’ Sunday Morning, CNN in addition to metro TV stations. Dr. Assaf is available for speaking engagements without any honorarium.

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