The shooters: Sniper John and Ft. Hood Nidal

I am not proud to say, I have a lot in common with both John Allen Muhammad (what has he ever done to deserve to be called by the name of a Holy Man??? But I digress), the Washington, D.C. area sniper, and with Army Major Nidal Malik Hassan. All three of us are said to be Muslims.

Like John, I too was born and bred Christian and in adult life became a convert to the religion of Islam–the religion which is self-defined as a religion of “peace.” And like Nidal, who was born Muslim, I once dreamed of becoming a U.S. military officer.

As far as John is concerned, I can only say: May God have mercy on his soul.

And it’s already too late for the advice I would have given to Nidal. He made his choice–a very, very, very bad decision in my opinion and the rest as they say is history. I faced similar demons that Nidal apparently encountered, but I chose a different path.

When I was a U.S. Naval Officer Candidate Kilo Company 7-11 at Newport, R.I. for 11 weeks in 1967, I declared myself to be a Muslim. I knew very little then about my declared faith, but I made that declaration, and now, along with my Honorable Discharge from the Navy, I have my dog-tags which declare my religion to be Islam.

I was in college, at San Jose State University at that time, and went back, to finish school before my scheduled completion of OCS and my commission. But Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in April of 1968, two months before I was supposed to go back to the Navy officer’s school on which the move “An Officer and a Gentleman” was based. I decided that summer to resign from the officer program.

By December 1968 I had decided to become a conscientious objector.

Later, in a 23 page letter, I told the Secretary of the Navy: “We believe that we who declared ourselves to be righteous Muslims should not participate in wars that take the lives of humans.  We do not believe this nation should force us to take part in such wars, for we have nothing to gain from it unless America agrees to give us the necessary territory wherein we may have something to fight for.”

Later, I told a Navy psychiatrist (someone not unlike Maj. Hassan in his Army role) that I would not go across the street to fight to defend this country’s bloody injustices against the African slaves and the Indians.

I told the Secretary of the Navy and that psychiatrist that I was willing to go to jail rather than be forced into military service and war, contrary to my beliefs. No, I wouldn’t be a medic or other non-combatant. I was prepared for jail.

There is another much more modern case that I wish had served as a role model for Maj. Hassan. In 2006, Army First Lt. Ehren Watada, an infantry officer based at Fort Lewis, Washington, refused to be deployed to Iraq on grounds that the war was illegal and immoral and that to participate in it would make him complicit in war crimes.

The Army court-martialed him; a military Judge declared a mistrial. The Army attempted to retry him, but a civilian US District Court Judge barred the retrial as a violation of the Constitution’s ban on double jeopardy. The Army then appealed the decision, but eventually the U.S. Solicitor General ordered the appeal withdrawn. Now that most Americans, including President Obama, understand the truth of Lt. Watada’s assertion that the Iraq War was based on a lie he is a hero.

Had Nidal followed that course rather than the Columbine, Colo. or Virginia Tech models, then, he would have been a martyr, rather than a symbol blind anger and frustration run amok.

In Virginia, John Muhammad was not the first Black person to commit a horrible act, killing innocent civilians. In Southampton, Va. one day in 1831, a man named Nat Turner led a slave rebellion killing dozens of Whites, men, women, even children.

But unlike John, Nat was a man of honor and valor. I’ve not read anywhere that he ever “copped a plea.” That he ever pled insanity. That he ever sought clemency for his bloody acts. Of course there is no comparison between the motivations of Nat and John, but Nat was, I believe a righteous man and a hero who stood by his acts, and never winced, nor cried aloud.

There are honorable, upright paths for people of conscience who are not at peace with the mad, bloodthirsty policies of the American government to follow. Had either John or Nidal sought one of those paths, 23 innocent people might still be alive today.

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