It would be easy to dismiss 31-year old Naveed Afzal Haq, the perpetrator of the shootings at the offices of the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle that left one dead and six injured, as an emotionally troubled man suffering from a decade of mental illness (true), a drifter who, despite having an engineering degree, couldn’t hold a job (which he was), a sexual deviant (he is charged with exposing himself to young women at a Washington mall), a loner who had no friends or female companionship (also true), and a victim of bipolar disorder (ditto). It would even be easy to remove the connection with Muslims entirely, given that Haq was baptized a Christian last year. But none of this would remove the reality that a man declaring himself to be upset with Israel and US troops in Iraq would take the law into his own hands and inflict violence on the innocent – with all the ramifications that entails for all other Muslim Americans (witness the predictable indictment of all Muslims by the right-wing press). Thankfully, the local Muslim community has fallen back on none of this. Instead, they voiced unequivocal condemnation of the act and rushed to the side of the local Jewish community. The shooting was “all the more reason that we work together for peace and justice,” said Farida Hakim, who has been actively involved in interfaith work with a Temple B’nai Torah, the synagogue of shooting victim Pamela Waechter. (The synagogue reported receiving several calls of concern from Muslim friends.) Others in the Muslim community minced no words in referring to the gunman. “This was just definitely a real hate crime,” said local Arab-American leader Rita Zawaideh. “Their pain is our pain; their suffering is our suffering,” said Seattle Times “Faith & Values” columnist Aziz Junejo, who noted that local Muslim leaders were visiting shooting victims in the hospital. The shooting comes at a time of heightened tensions overseas (the story bumped off the front pages the killing of 56 civilians, half of them children, by Israeli shelling) as well as locally, where rallies on either side of the violence compete for attention (although a peace rally in support of Lebanon was postponed in the shooting aftermath.) It also highlights the need for Muslim communities to create a social services infrastructure to help young Muslims deal with emotional and personal issues in a professional manner – before they become everyone’s problems.
Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of altmuslim.com.