The instant the news broke that a soldier with a Muslim name shot up the base at Ft. Hood the Council on American-Islamic Relations wasted no time and issued a loud and vigorous denunciation of the mass murders. The Council didn't know whether Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the alleged shooter, was a Muslim by birth, a converted Muslim, or even a Muslim at all. The name and the horrific murder spree was enough to drive the group to quickly distance itself from the rampage. Other Muslim organizations instantly followed suit and issued their own equally strong disavowal of Hasan.
They were wise to do so. Though anti-Muslim hate crimes and anti-Muslim hysteria have leveled off somewhat since the September 11 terror attacks, Muslims still routinely get the blame for anything that even remotely smacks of a terrorism act.
Hasan's alleged Ft. Hood bloodbath is no different. The pack of shrill rightist bloggers and talk radio chatterers jumped all over the shooting and gleefully fanned anti-Muslim passions. It didn't take much to get the anti-Muslim hate juices flowing. A legion of writers on websites spewed the ritual anti-Muslim slurs, profanities, and insults at Hasan and Muslims.
President Obama saw the danger of anti-Muslim fear mongering, and tried to head it off at the pass. He quickly admonished the public not to rush to judgment about the shooting and the shooter. Obama took a page from Clinton and Bush's playbook when mob hysteria was building after the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1996 and the 9/11 attacks. Clinton and Bush cautioned the public not to finger point at Muslims for the attacks.
The Oklahoma City bombing was the handiwork of Timothy McVeigh, a loose screw, red-blooded American fanatic. The 9/11 attackers were mostly Saudi nationals. Yet, that still didn't stop the murmurs, and finger pointing at, and bashing of all Muslims.
That's no surprise. American Muslims have been the repeated targets of verbal digs, physical assaults, and profiling. They are just too inviting a scapegoat for the fears and frustrations many American have over two failed and flawed wars, a moribund Middle East peace process, and even more frightening to many is the increasing presence of Muslims in their neighborhood, in schools, and work places, especially when wearing Muslim attire.
Obama's admonition and the absence of self-serving, anti-Muslim inflammatory antics or statements by elected officials, as well as the army brass's bending over backward to tamp down any talk that Hasan's act was anything more than the crazed act of an over-the-edge military guy took the edge off the mob stirrings.
But that may not be enough to totally still the murmurs about alleged Muslim conspiracies and anti-American terrorist plots in the coming days. The repeated media loop of a witness' claim that Hasan allegedly shouted Allah Akbar, the Muslim impassioned cry, is prima facie proof for some people of a darker Muslim conspiracy afoot.
In an interview a Palestinian cousin of Hasan's hinted that anti-Muslim taunts may have driven him to commit carnage. While there's not a scintilla of proof to back this charge up, it's still more than enough to set the mindless and the gullible off to the races about the Muslim peril to America.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations then had good reason to rush out their statement denouncing Hasan's alleged murder spree. However, even that won't be enough to convince the hate Muslim crowd that Hasan's bloody assault had nothing to do with Muslim fanaticism but simply one man's going off the murderous deep end. Those types, we've learned to our sorrow, come in all shapes, sizes and religions.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press) will be released in January 2010.