As a Muslim, I condemn the horrific tragedy that occurred at Fort Hood last Thursday. My heart goes out to the families of American service members who were killed and wounded in the shooting. I am afraid that this incident will disrupt the collective interests of all human beings due to a new wave of distrust and cynicism.
Islam does not condone such killings. The Qur’an clearly states that deliberate killing of an innocent human being constitutes crimes against humanity. Incidents like this can shatter the composure of hundreds of millions of Muslims who want peace and work every day for peace within themselves and their societies.
Who are the victims of this tragic and shameless act? It is not only the victims and their families. Our whole world is victimized by this hatred, anger, and violence. As a result of these events, churches may turn against mosques and media groups may stereotype minorities. People may eye one another more suspiciously and pundits may grow angrier in tone. Vested interests may also manipulate these societal divisions in order to pursue their own ends.
How can we save societies from such abhorrent events? Criminals and crime exist in every community. However, against a larger context of antagonism between cultures, an event like this breeds an ever-increasing cycle of hatred. Given the current confrontational attitude between the West and the Muslim world, any single event like this can victimize countless people through guilt by association.
Strangely enough, these events resemble modern Indian history. Within India, Hindus and Muslims lived side by side for over a millennium until the British colonized both communities, utilizing the dreaded policy of “divide and conquer.” With instigation from several vested interests, a small band of lunatics started several communal riots and led the sub-continent to disorder.
In order to prevent such destructive and divisive behavior, we need to bridge the gap and build trust across cultures and nations. Transnational citizen activism can serve as an inspiring catalyst towards transformational diplomacy. And who can promote peace and reconciliation between cultures more effectively than the common denominator between cultures? American Muslims have a compelling need and a great opportunity to promote constructive engagement between the West and the Muslim world right now.
The confrontational standoff between the United States and the Muslim world remains a failure in our era. Violent conflicts for the last several decades have become tragic liabilities for all parties involved. Two wars in two countries have left hundreds of thousands people dead, hundreds of billions of dollars spent, nothing measurable achieved, and no end in sight. If we want to change our future, we should learn from our past.
I believe that nonviolence has enormous potential to bring about positive social change. While war is sometimes necessary to prevent massive injustice, war cannot rebuild a nation. Many recent wars have maintained little capacity to foster long-term solutions. Prominent military generals all across the Atlantic readily admit this fact. Long-term solutions can only occur through diplomatic engagement.
In other times in history, America has succeeded with flying colors when it promoted constructive engagements in periods of conflict. The Marshall Plan rebuilt devastated and defeated enemy nations after World War II, setting a new paradigm for international diplomacy. After the repressive and closed-door Cultural Revolution, America reached out to China and helped the nation to become a global partner. Regarding the Soviet Union, the abandonment of proxy wars of “containment” led to a more constructive policy of “détente” and a transformation that culminated with the end of the Cold War. These endeavors are giant leaps in the pursuit of global cooperation and collective welfare.
In these times, however, we have fallen profoundly short of our goals. America has failed to pursue a similar approach for the Muslim world, even though this region constitutes roughly 20% of humanity and possesses 75% of the world’s oil reserves. But American Muslims can still step up to the plate and call for change. They can initiate a civil discourse within America, and they can spearhead transnational activism to bring about a win-win agenda in our time.
A recent Pew Research survey stated that 65% of American Muslims were born in foreign lands. They have close ties with more than fifty countries around the world, and many of them are the cream of the crop from these lands. Many of the other 35% of Muslim Americans are African Americans, and this community has a stunning history of leadership in American social movements such as abolitionism and civil rights. In other words, American Muslims have enormous political capital if they unite to form a movement for diplomacy between East and West.
This incident at Fort Hood was only a symptom of a larger disease that exists between our civilizations. For the sake of our common welfare, American Muslims need to stand up for peace, justice, and progress.
Ruby Amatulla is the Executive Director for Muslims for Peace, Justice, and Progress and a co-founder of the American Muslim Iraq Peace Initiative.