There isn’t a word to describe the heartache, pain, and sheer disgust that I felt when I woke up yesterday morning. A Muslim serviceman can always expect to face questions about his loyalty. When I was in uniform, for instance - a converted black sergeant from New Jersey - a converted black sergeant from New York, Hassan Akbar, turned on his fellow soldiers and murdered two of them.
I served with professionals, and the most I got from my fellow Marines was a few off-colour jokes. But I count myself among the fortunate. I wouldn’t want to imagine what it’s like for Muslims serving now – especially those at Fort Hood. You pray there won’t be any issues. But you can’t be sure.
The actions of this madman cost us, the many Muslims have served this country honourably over the years, so much. I, like them, make no secret of my love of my faith as well as my country and my Corps. Like everyone else, young Muslims want to serve even over the objection of their parents: they want to be part of something, they want to be their bit. Many American Muslim military personnel have honourable discharges; some others gave the ultimate sacrifice, and are buried at Arlington Cemetry. I want to say to Christians: this murderer is no more one of us than the paedophile priest, the abortion doctor killer, or the millions of prisoners behind bars are part of you.
And yet already our military loyalties, our honour, and our integrity are being questioned. Most American Muslims today are going to get up, get ready for work, send their kids off to school, and pray that nothing stupid happens because of their faith. My hope is that the professionalism of most armed forces units will mean that casual jokes and debate will be the norm. But violence is also possible.
Meanwhile, some non-Muslims still believe that an entire religious community shares responsibility for the actions of one guy that we didn’t even know existed until yesterday. No other faith community is taken to task in this manner. I read the blogs and messageboards, and I understand people are upset – but the reaction is disheartening: calls for the expulsions of Muslims from the armed forces, or for a vetting process, or in a few cases for an all-out ban on Islam. So even as I make extra prayers and give Dua, I know that my fellow non-Muslim Americans would love to see me leave my country. I wonder where they would like me to go.
Robert Salaam is a blogger and former US Marine who converted to Islam shortly after 9/11