During last year’s presidential campaign, it was Colin Powell who spoke most eloquently of the brave service of Muslim soldiers and sailors, not Barack Obama. Cowed by a widespread belief that he was Muslim, Obama was virtually silent on the subject, craven in the face of the demands of electoral politics.
Powell filled the void. Endorsing Obama on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last October, he chastised his fellow Republicans for a rightwing heterodoxy (which has only grown more pronounced since then) and an exclusionary narrowmindedness.
“I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion that (Obama) is a Muslim and might have an association with terrorists. This is not the way we should be doing it in America,” Powell said.
As the interview ended, the former Secretary of State evoked a photograph he had seen of a mother kneeling at the grave of her dead son.
“. . .At the very top of the head stone, it didn’t have a Christian cross. It didn’t have a Star of David. It has a crescent and star of the Islamic faith. . . His name was Kareem Sultan Khan. And he was an American. . .He was fourteen years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he could serve his country and he gave his life,” Powell noted.
That sort of powerful testimony is needed even more now, after last Thursday’s bloody rampage at Fort Hood, Texas, apparently carried out by a Muslim Army officer, Nidal Hisan, who was, stunningly, a psychiatrist. As reports surface suggesting that Hisan may have been seduced by radicalism, there will inevitably be more calls for sanctions or restrictions that apply to all Muslim troops.
Obama chose not to use the occasion of Tuesday’s memorial service to forcefully speak out against the anti-Muslim bigotry that — always close to the surface — has bubbled up in certain quarters. Instead, his references to Islam were implicit, if obvious.
“No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor. And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice — in this world, and the next,” he said.
In the coming weeks, as the investigation continues and members of Congress pounce on an incendiary issue, Obama will need to pointedly address a worrisome tendency to smear all Muslims with the misdeeds of a few. Already, conservative talk shows and Web sites have indulged the impulses of assorted “experts” who claim that Hisan’s murderous spree shows the dangers of Islam.
Bryan Fischer, an official with the ultra-conservative American Family Association, called for the U.S. military to “stop the practice of allowing Muslims to serve.”
Fischer went on to acknowledge that “most U.S. Muslims don’t shoot up their fellow soldiers. Fine. As soon as Muslims give us a foolproof way to identify their jihadis from their moderates, we’ll go back to allowing them to serve.”
The American Family Association is known partly for its hardline anti-abortion stance; yet, its officials have never condemned the bombing of an abortion clinic or the murder of an abortion provider — acts always carried out in the name of God — as characteristics of Christianity. (Indeed, the AFA can barely bring itself to condemn such acts at all.) The savagery of a handful of anti-abortion fanatics is properly understood as emanating from a Christianism that distorts the teachings of Jesus Christ; it is not a Christianity that most believers embrace — or even recognize.
The same is true of Hasan’s apparent distortions of Islam. And Osama bin Laden’s and Zacarias Moussaoui’s.
Hasan may have wanted a jihadist’s martyrdom, but he appears headed, instead, for a military court-martial, where he will be held to account for his alleged crimes. That is as it should be. If he is guilty, he committed the ultimate betrayal of his fellow soldiers, making a killing field of a home base that should have provided sanctuary from the depravity of war.
But unless the investigation yields co-conspirators, no one else should be blamed for those crimes, including other Muslims serving in uniform. Too many of them, like young Khan, have given their lives for their country.