Clash of loyalties

Clash of loyalties

Thinking aloud

The wonder is not that an Arab-American army officer ran amuck but that it didn’t happen earlier. This is certainly not to justify Major Nidal Malik Hasan’s murderous spree in the world’s biggest military camp, but to suggest that many Muslims who are apparently completely assimilated in western life have profound reservations about the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was to assuage their fears (and those of the moderate Islamic ummah) that President Barack Obama made visiting Egypt a high priority and delivered a thought-provoking address at Cairo’s Al Azhar university. But many Arabs saw it as a ceremonial gesture in contrast with US refusal to back the demand for a freeze on Israel’s illegal settlements in the conquered West Bank or Washington’s pressure on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas not to endorse the United Nations’ finding that Israel was guilty of war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

Such actions have to be considered in their totality in judging the impact on men like the 39-year-old Major Hasan or the British-Pakistani boys born and bred in Yorkshire responsible for the mayhem in London in which they also blew themselves up.
European and American opinion-makers have been busy in the wake of the Fort Hood massacre upholding the ‘loyalty’ of Muslims who have taken up various professions in the West, including joining western armed forces. That’s the wrong way of looking at the challenge. Of course, French, British and American Muslims are as loyal as anyone else to the countries they live in. But secular loyalty is separate from religious commitment. Any administration with some understanding of human psychology avoids pitting one against the other.

The US has something to learn in this regard from Chinese-majority Singapore with its Malay Muslim minority and delicate relations with Malaysia next door. Initially, Malay Singaporeans were exempt from military service which was compulsory for everyone else. When Malays protested that this was a form of discrimination, they were admitted to the armed forces but generally not into sensitive services that might expose them to unnecessary temptation.

Lee Kuan Yew cannot have missed the message of a little-noticed First World War memorial in the heart of Singapore recalling the mutiny by British Indian troops when they were ordered to embark for Europe to fight Turkey. The mutineers were captured and executed: they were all Muslims.

The authorities failed in their task by not paying adequate attention to recent warning signs. Aden’s British-trained police ambushed and killed seven British soldiers long before the young Yorkshire jihadis. The American authorities claim to have foiled a terror plot by six foreign-born men who were planning to blow up Fort Dix in New Jersey.


The FBI accuses Najibullah Zazi, an airport van driver, of planning bomb attacks using hydrogen peroxide. In another case, Hosam (Sam) Smadi, a 19-year-old Jordanian-American, tried to blow up a Dallas skyscraper.

Like the Indian soldiers in Singapore or the Aden policemen, these trusted protégés of the western powers turned against their mentors. Not all such instances are made public. One that could not be suppressed involved an Afghan national police officer, referred to only as ‘Gulbuddin,’ who shot dead five British officers at Nad-e-Ali in Helmand province. Some of these men may be al-Qaeda or Taliban plants. Others are converts to Islamic fundamentalism. Some question the justice of the two wars, as do a number of British soldiers who have become conscientious objectors or gone AWOL (Absent without official leave).

Major Hasan, whose Palestinian parents migrated to the US before he was born, may have had two other motivations. As a trained psychiatrist who treated American soldiers repatriated from the war theatre, he became familiar with the trauma of the conflict in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Secondly, his cousin, Nader Hasan, confirms that the major suffered “some harassment from his military colleagues” because of his ‘West Asian ethnicity.’

In other words, they taunted (or discriminated against) him for being Arab. It must have seemed the height of western Christian injustice to a man who had been born and brought up in the US and insisted on joining the American army despite parental opposition because he felt he ought to do something for his country.

Wearing salwar, kameez and a cap when off duty, regularly attending the mosque and distributing copies of the Quran need not have amounted to repudiating his country. After all, Major Hasan knew no other. Besides, American multiculturalism should offer space to minority manifestations.

The Christian ethic might be dominant but the supreme court did rule against the cross that had been erected at Pearl Harbour to commemorate the beginning of the Second World War. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban might dub all westerners Crusaders, but the late President Ronald Reagan failed to make Bible-teaching compulsory in schools. The US remains a secular country.

The parting of the ways came when Major Hasan became convinced that the country he regarded as his own had unfairly opened hostilities against his world of the spirit. It is a clash of loyalties that no Muslim should have to suffer.

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