The tragedy of the Fort Hood massacre is horrific. A backlash against Muslims serving in the US Armed Services is expected. This is kooky. This is classic scapegoat theory at play. It is misplaced energy cutting away at the heart of what it means to be an American. The kookiness will stop if we expect our leaders to avoid the cheap fleeting advantages of nodding and winking at scapegoaters. Our “No” to scapegoating will be a measure of who we are.
The rational for the backlash is that Major Hassan is Muslim. 3,500 of the 1.4 million who serve in the US Armed forces share his faith. The evidence to date suggests he was a lone operative, possibly deranged. The unanswered question is why his known comments in support of suicide bombing were never acted on by authorities. Muslim Americans such as Corporal Karen Rashad Khan have served with distinction and given their lives for the US.
There was no public backlash against Christians when Scott Roeder assassinated Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. The Christian groups who applauded Tiller’s murder for performing abortion services were not described as terror cells. What is at work unleashing a backlash based on one claimed faith and not another?
Scapegoat theories tell us that people act out their anger, fear and prejudice by choosing a group that they dislike. We did it to Japanese Americans during the Second World War. The most extreme example of scapegoating remains German targeting of Jews in that same war.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks, many American cities experienced a sharp increase in attacks against those perceived as “different”. In Seattle, attacks were committed against the Sikh community while threats made it necessary to protect mosques and synagogues. Fear was driving equal-opportunity scapegoating.
Major Hassan and Scott Roeder do not speak for the majority of those who claim the Muslim or Christian faith. To use these extremist bearers of terror to tarnish entire groups of people is opportunistic fear-mongering. Left unchecked, the backlash that is feared for Muslims in the US will feed the perniciousness of scapegoating.
The overwhelming majority of Americans are tolerant and proud of the freedom from religion which is a defining mark of our nation. Inter-spiritual understanding is needed – urgently. Eternal spiritual truths of love and compassion towards our neighbors are not feel-good sentiments. They’re made known in concrete actions. The values and principles of our nation invite honoring difference.
The kookiness of back lashing becomes less powerful when named and confronted. We need to reclaim the conversation. Perpetrators of violence of any kind are to be resolutely condemned. As are the scapegoaters. New conversations about shared American mores and common spiritual values will have the kookiness make way for forging a stronger diverse America. Scapegoating tears people apart. Surely it is time to build up?
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