I feel like I would be remiss not to mention some of what I’ve been thinking about this past week in light of the recent events at Fort Hood. Obviously, all of what could be said on what transpired at the military compound two weeks ago and the massacre caused by Major Nidal Hasan has pretty much already been said. However, I feel there is one area of the discussion that is only beginning to get its proper acknowledgment. That is, the effect such a tragedy has on the image of Muslim-Americans in this country.
Yes I know: it’s a broken record. We all remember the anti-Muslim backlash in varying degrees following 9/11, the U.S.S. Cole attack, the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, the (insert violent extremist event here), etc., etc. But unfortunately, our own nature in this country is to fear and hate first and ask questions later. That’s the way it has always been (see “World War II Japanese internment camps”) and, at least for the foreseeable future, that’s the way it will be. But the way I see it, that is where we come in. As students of the area and as somewhat enlightened people to our own natures, I feel we have a duty to combat this prevailing image with our understanding. We know the difference between the peaceful doctrines of Islam and its own prohibitions against violence and the radical doctrines of a select few who choose to reinterpret it for, well, other reasons. It should be at least partially, if not fully, on us and scholars like us to deflect the inaccurate notions people harbor of Muslims and the Islamic faith within this country.
Case in point, I’m sure many of you read the email circulated this week on the comments made in Forbes magazine by, frighteningly enough, an academic from NYU. Professor Tunku Varadarajan, in an article discussing the events at Fort Hood, coins a colorful new term, “Going Muslim”, to “describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American--a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood--discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans.” (Pause for disapproving sigh). It was a graduate student here from the Steinhardt School of Nutrition, Food studies and Public Health, James A. Ferguson, who spoke out first in an email to President Sexton, among others, condemning the ideas in Professor Varadarajan’s article. In his email, he says,
“I dislike this sort of fear-mongering; it reminds me of the dark times of 9/11 where people were suspicious of their Muslim neighbors. I am a Muslim-American who was born in this country; the implication that I and other Muslims are actually something non-American deep down is highly offensive to me, and to the thousands of Muslim-Americans who currently serve in the armed forces and strongly condemned the murders at Fort Hood last week. “
First, I commend Mr. Ferguson on his valiant stance on such a grossly ignorant implication to be made of the entire Muslim-American community. Second, I feel that while most, if not all, of us here in the Kevorkian Center share Mr. Ferguson’s view, our voice should be much louder in preventing the spread of Islamophobic ideas. And I don’t mean that we all need to submit counter arguments to Forbes so much as I feel we need to use our training to promote understanding in the place of fear to those around us in our personal lives or classes throughout NYU. After all, it is we who have decided to devote ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge and truthful understanding. So what does it say about us if we are to idly ignore the dissemination of ignorant and fearful ideas? I can’t speak for all of us, but I certainly know what it would say about me.