Virginia Tech Shooting: It’s “Deja Vu All Over Again”

Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

Posted Apr 20, 2007      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Virginia Tech Shooting: It’s “Deja Vu All Over Again”

by Dr. Hesham A. Hassaballa

In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

All throughout the day of the horrific Virginia Tech massacre, everyone was wondering about the identity of the gunman. It took the authorities an unusually long time to identify the gunman, and this sent speculations flying…and had Muslims worrying. I am almost certain the entire Muslim community was on edge as authorities worked to identify Cho Seung-Hui.

“What if he turns out to be a Muslim?”

That question, I am sure, was on the minds of many, if not most, Muslims across the country. Then came the news reports - citing reports from survivors of the deadly shooting rampage - that the shooter was an young, Asian man. Immediately, some screamed: “Terrorism!”

Punidt Debbie Schlussel, on her weblog, speculated that the “Asian” was a Muslim (and therefore a terrorist): “The murderer has been identified by law enforcement and media reports as a young Asian male. The Virginia Tech campus has a very large Muslim community, many of which are from Pakistan. Pakis are considered ‘Asian.’ Were there two [shooters] and was this a coordinated terrorist attack?” The reason she speculated thus was “law enforcement and the media strangely won’t tell us more specifically who the gunman is.” Well, that was because he so badly injured himself and failed to carry any form of identification with him. Thus, it took the authorities a long time to positively identify him.

Yet, the speculation over whether Cho had any connections to Islam continued because of the words “Ismael Ax” that were tattooed on one of his arms. What do these words mean? In the April 18 edition of the Chicago Tribune, Eric Benderoff wrote: “In Islam, Ibrahim is the father of the prophets and, upset that people in his hometown still worshiped idols and not Allah, he smashed all but one statue in a local temple with an ax. Ibrahim’s son is Ismail, who also became a prophet.” He continued, “This theory picked up speed because many bloggers wondered if the actions at Virginia Tech could be related to terrorism.”

Once again, because of extremely dubious “connections” to Islam, Poof!...Cho Seung Hui becomes a terrorist. Once again, the moment someone who is Muslim commits a crime, it automatically becomes an act of terrorism. Never mind that Muslims, too, can be simple criminals and not “lone jihadists” ready to “die (and kill) for Allah.” What if the “young Asian Male” turned out to be a “Muhammad Ahmad” from the Indian subcontinent? What if he shot the exact same videos as Cho; wrote the exact same disturbing writings and plays; wrote the exact same manifesto railing against rich “brats” and declaring: “You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul, and torched my conscience”? What if the facts were exactly the same as they are now, the only difference being the ethnicity of the gunman?

Would he still be referred to as “disturbed” or “deranged” or “mentally ill”? Or, would he have been called a terrorist for simply being a Muslim?

To be sure, if someone shoots a video declaring “Allah commanded me to kill these infidels for what they have done to Muslims around the world” and then proceeds to murder innocent people, this is clearly an act of terrorism, no matter if he sets off a bomb or shoots an AK-47. I’ll even grant that, if a Muslim commits an act of murder because he believes the Qur’an demands Muslims to “kill all the infidels,” as horribly satanic as this belief is, it is an act of terrorism. Yet, if a Muslim commits murder, being “deranged,” or “disturbed,” or “mentally ill”, it should not automatically be considered an act of “jihad.”

And the rest of the Muslim community should not have to be on edge for fear of reprisal. The terrorists who act in the name of Islam no more reflect the community than Cho Seung-Hui reflects the Korean-American community. Korean-Americans have expressed shock and sadness that the gunman at Virginia Tech was of Korean origin. And they are afraid of backlash: “This community is very fearful right now,” said Walter T. Son, a Korean-American, to the Chicago Tribune. “Our children on the street are worried about a backlash.” Daniel Lee, a professor of Social Work at Loyola University Chicago, also told the paper that he tells Korean youth: “‘You guys need to know, this is a very rare case, but it will affect you because people will think that you are the next one.’” The same is true with American Muslim youth.

Yet, if there is anything positive about this terrible, terrible tragedy, it may be that we Americans can see more clearly that our country is made up of people from all over the world. People from practically every country and every faith group are represented in America and are counted as Americans. If one of them - be he Muslim or of Korean origin - commits a heinous crime, we should not tar other Americans of the same group with the stain of the crime. Just because one Muslim commits an act of terrorism, just because one Korean American commits mass murder, it does not mean that all Muslims are terrorists. It does not mean that all Koreans are mass murderers.

If we as a people fully understand and implement this fact in our lives, then we can live in a country where one group of Americans will never have to fear another group of Americans. And it would make the already fabulous country called America even more fabulous.

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