Immediately after it became known that the shooter at Fort Hood was South Asian and had a Muslim sounding name the condemnations came in from every major Islamic organization in America. In my inbox I got emails from Daisy Khan and Feisal Rauf, Eboo Patel, Shahed Amanullah and others expressing, on behalf of their religion, their sorrow and grief for the victims and the families of those who were killed and wounded. These Muslims felt the need to urgently and publically disassociated themselves from any violence that is in any way connected to Islam, and ask for calm in the face of this renewed suspicion among some quarters that Islam is the reason for this violent act.
It reminds me of African Americans who cringe when they hear reports of a crime done by another African American fearing that the incident will reflect upon them because they share the same racial background. More recently, Asian Americans, especially of Korean decent, experienced a similar inclination to disassociate their own race with the shooter at Virginia Tech. And even more recently, Jews felt somehow implicated as a race and/or religion in the crimes of the swindler Bernie Madoff.
It is in recognition of my own privilege as a white Christian male in America that I do not feel any need to disassociate myself from the many heinous things that white Christian men do because I already don’t associate myself with them and neither does the rest of society. We who are White, Christian and Male (WCMs) should ask ourselves this basic question: When we heard about the Oklahoma bomber, Columbine, or the shooter at the Holocaust museum – all horrible crimes committed by WCMs did we think to ourselves – ‘oh, this will reflect badly on me?’
The answer is no. Why? Because still in this country, White, Male, Christians are considered normative and therefore the range of WCM behavior, from very good to very bad, simply represents the wide range of human behavior. I know I have nothing in common with Timothy McVeigh and so does the rest of American society. Unfortunately, people of other races and religions in America do not have the benefit of recognition that there are very good people and very bad people among them. Instead, the actions of one person of a minority group reflects upon the reputation and sense of security and worth of the entire group.
This has to stop.
It is not fair for a young Muslim student in Seattle to bear the burden of association or responsibility for the shooting in Texas. The two have nothing to do with one another. Of course we need to investigate the factors, including religious ones, that may have gone into this horrible shooter incident at Fort Hood, just as we needed to look into the influences on Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma or Von Brunn at the Holocaust Museum. But this event no more reflects on the whole of Islam or South Asians than McVeigh or Von Brunn reflects on White, Christian Males. It is time to extend the privilege of disassociation from evil outliers to all races and religions in America.