The Sniper Who Embraced Islam

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Now we know the terrible, unthinkable truth — the media have just told us.

While it is good news to learn that the sniper suspected of killing and wounding more than a dozen Americans — and terrorizing millions of others — in the Washington DC area has been arrested, the bad news for Muslims in Canada and worldwide is that the deadly gunner reportedly is a convert to Islam.

Now there is yet another reason for bigots everywhere to lash out against Islam; one more reason for Canadian Muslims and their families, no less than their American co-religionists, to live in fear; one more reason for reactionary elements in North American society to subject them to yet more post-9/11 abuse.

Only Islam will be blamed, of that I am sure. It surely won’t be the U.S. Army, where the suspected murderer was trained to be a dead-sure marksman; nor will it be his failed marriage, his chronic unemployment, or the delusions that filled his otherwise empty life.

And suddenly now, we hear nothing more about the sniper’s probable personality profile; no more speculations about his being a psychopath, a psychotic killer, a nut case, a loser, a loner marginalized by society, etc. The media no longer seem interested in analysing this dangerous individual as a person who could be acting out his anger and wreaking revenge on the people or society that hurt him.

Why the change of approach? It seems that his being a Muslim convert is sufficient alone to explain his crimes. The media, for example, have shifted back into a familiar biased stance, resorting to facile questions like “what is it about Islam that makes ‘them’ do that?” or equally damaging suggestions that Islam must be an “evil” religion, that Muslims are inherently “violent,” or that “they hate us” for our perceived wealth and freedom.

Since 9/11, and right to this very moment, Canadian Muslims have lived under the relentless strain caused by implied association with events that took place on American soil, and which were planned in other parts of the world.

They have been subjected to all kinds of hate crime, vandalism, verbal abuse, and physical assaults resulting (particularly for women) from wearing traditional Muslim garb. They have been discriminated against in all walks of life, subjected to racial profiling, been incessantly harassed by a host of law-enforcement agencies, or live in continual fear of unjust detention and economic ruin.

They run the constant risk of being detained on technicalities, or on the merest suspicions, by customs and immigration authorities on either side of the border, or having their lives turned into a hellish nightmare because a misinformed or vindictive neighbour phoned the authorities. They have watched helplessly as fellow Muslims have been incarcerated, then shipped to far-away countries with no legal protection. Canadian Muslims have watched and agonized as all of the above happened to loved ones and others in their community, or have experienced such trauma themselves.

On top of all the social stigmatization, now they must also endure routine denigration of their religion and its Prophet by prominent Christian religious leaders, as politicians all but cheer them on.

The last thing our Muslim communities need is a suspected deadly sniper who, it is claimed, embraced Islam.

But even if the killer’s religious adherence is indisputably true, is it too much to remind the rest of the world that Muslims are not qualitatively different from all other human beings? To expect flawless, superhuman conduct from them, or any other faith group is blatantly unrealistic.

Without claiming specific religious direction of any kind, disgruntled employees mow down their co-workers, angry schoolchildren massacre their classmates, politically disillusioned militia members attack federal employees, hateful white supremacists target minorities at random . In these, or any number of recent social tragedies, the instigators might be Muslims acting out of irrational anger or pain. And they could as easily be members of any other faith group, or of no faith background at all.

It should not be strange news to suggest that Muslims are prone to the same psychological conditions as the rest of humanity; that they aren’t immune to mental breakdown under stress or, for that matter, to psychopathic and other antisocial tendencies. That’s simply how statistical probabilities work, whether we like them or not.

How much greater is the unfairness then, when people who would not question human diversity in myriad other facets of life, choose to ignore compassion and logic, and seek to blame an entire community for the tragic failings of a tiny minority.

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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