To Be Black, Muslim, and Military

Should Muslims fight in this war? A young antiwar Muslim confronts her inner turmoil.

The mind-boggling story of Sergeant Assan (Hassan) Akbar, both an African American and a Muslim, who was taken into custody for allegedly killing a fellow serviceman and seriously injuring fifteen other soldiers with a grenade attack at a 101st Airborne Division brigade command center in Kuwait, caused a jolt of emotions and thoughts to surge through my consciousness like a shot of lightning. The news left me "shocked and awed" by the extent to which this incandescently unrighteous war, opposed by so many from the Pope to Mandela, enters me and will not leave.

I am African American. I am Muslim. I oppose the war. And my little brother is a Marine.

The war is against a country filled with Muslims. I am both a racial and religious minority in America at a time where it is not safe to be either. I am American at a time when Americans are moving targets throughout the world. Akbar and I have a lot in common in that sense. I wondered, at the split second when the news of Akbar's religion was released, would any harm or discrimination come to my brother who left his wife and his daughter behind to loyally defend his country? Would he be treated badly now that a Muslim, and an African American at that, had allegedly committed treason and mutiny against his fellow servicemen and his country?

The day after the war started, when antiwar protests drew more than a thousand students, faculty and staff to walk out of their classes and into Harvard Yard, I could not help but feel like a useless sack of bones that would surely incur God's wrath for not doing more to stop the inevitable while at the same time asking myself, "What more can I do?" That ominous day, I stood on the outskirts of the crowd unable to join in on the chants of, "No war on Iraq! Bill of Rights, take it back!"


"My little brother is a United States Marine!" I wanted to shout as I observed a young Asian-American student weave in and out the crowd with a sign taped to his head that read, "Support the troops, go to class." The urge to say this bubbled in my throat as the self-described "anti-antiwar protestors" shouted, "Go to class, you guys love Saddam." I was saved from having to say anything when a student passing by said, "I used to be in the armed forces and I oppose the war."

Instead, a deluge of conflicting emotions moved me to tears. Here I stood, a descendant of slaves in America, whose "peopleness was fired in the crucible of their American experience," as one esteemed professor eloquently put it recently. At that moment, I felt psychologically transported, like a trauma victim with flashbacks, to the agony and torment of a time I have only known heretofore through the stories of my elders, who will not let me forget. As a child I used to wonder how so many people could have stood by while millions of human beings were entered into chattel slavery in America. Now I can only imagine the innocent Iraqi people wondering how the world can stand by while 2000-pound bombs drop on their country.

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