via: The New York Times
Abdi Akgun joined the Marines in August of 2000, fresh out of high school and eager to serve his country. As a Muslim, the attacks of Sept. 11 only steeled his resolve to fight terrorism.
But two years later, when Mr. Akgun was deployed to Iraq with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the thought of confronting Muslims in battle gave him pause.
He was haunted by the possibility that he might end up killing innocent civilians.
“It’s kind of like the Civil War, where brothers fought each other across the Mason-Dixon line,” Mr. Akgun, 28, of Lindenhurst, N.Y., who returned from Iraq without ever pulling the trigger. “I don’t want to stain my faith, I don’t want to stain my fellow Muslims, and I also don’t want to stain my country’s flag.”
Thousands of Muslims have served in the United States military — a legacy that some trace to the First World War. But in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, as the United States has become mired in two wars on Muslim lands, the service of Muslim-Americans is more necessary and more complicated than ever before.
In the aftermath of the shootings at Fort Hood on Thursday by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan of the Army, a psychiatrist, many Muslim soldiers and their commanders say they fear that the relationship between the military and its Muslim service members will only grow more difficult.
On Sunday, the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., said he worried about a backlash against Muslims in the armed forces and emphasized the military’s reliance on those men and women.
“Our diversity, not only in our Army but in our country, is a strength,” General Casey said Sunday on “Meet the Press” on NBC. “And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”
It is unclear what might have motivated Major Hasan, who is suspected of killing 13 people. Senior military and law enforcement officials said they had tentatively dismissed the possibility that he was carrying out a terrorist plot. He seems to have been influenced by a mixture of political, religious and psychological factors, the officials said.
Muslim leaders, advocates and military service members have taken pains to denounce the shooting and distance themselves from Major Hasan. They make the point that his violence is no more representative of them than it is of other groups to which he belongs, including Army psychiatrists.
“I don’t understand why the Muslim-American community has to take responsibility for him,” said Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America. “The Army has had at least as much time and opportunity to form and shape this person as the Muslim community.”
That sentiment was echoed by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who told “Face the Nation” on CBS that the shooting was “not about his religion — the fact that this man was a Muslim.”
Yet also Sunday, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, announced he would hold hearings to explore whether Major Hasan’s actions constituted terrorism.
Whatever his possible motives, the emerging portrait of Major Hasan’s life in the military casts light on some of the struggles and frustrations felt by other Muslims in the services. He was disillusioned with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which he perceived to be part of a war on Islam, according to interviews with friends and relatives.
He had been the subject of taunts and felt singled out by his fellow soldiers for being Muslim, friends and relatives said. His uncle in Ramallah, West Bank, Rafik Hamad, said Major Hasan’s fellow soldiers had once called him a “camel jockey.”
That term, like “haaji” and “raghead,” has become a more common part of the lexicon among soldiers on the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, several Muslim servicemen said in interviews. They spoke about the epithets philosophically, saying they understood using them was a survival tactic to dehumanize the enemy.
But for Muslim soldiers, particularly those who speak Arabic, the struggle to distance themselves from those they fight has often proved more difficult in these wars.
Amjad Khan, who served in the Army for eight years and was deployed to Iraq, said he had tried to get used to the way his fellow soldiers talked about Iraqis.