Letter: Actions of one should not define a group

Re: “Standing up for religion” (Nov. 13). When I read Joe Carlsmith’s column about the recent shooting carried out by Major Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, I thought it was great. And then I read the comments on the News’ Web site.

They seemed to fit the trend of Islamophobic comments responding to almost every article in the News that is even remotely connected to Islam and Muslims. Many — like the commenter who wrote, “The real islamophobia is when people, including smart people, can’t accurately and honestly criticize Islam for its preaching of murder,” or the one who wrote, “To pretend Islam is not connected to terrorism, warfare and cruelty is to pretend the sun circles earth” — suggested that Islam is an inherently violent religion simply because some Muslims, a very tiny minority, happen to favor unjustified violence.

I find it puzzling that many Americans, and especially some segments of the American media, expect the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims to answer for the actions of some of their co-religionists. Why should all Muslims feel pressured to loudly distance themselves from acts like Hasan’s and plead that Islam is a peaceful religion? Why is Islam — the religion, the historical tradition, the culture, its followers — judged by the acts of a destructive few, but when other groups carry out equally destructive acts, they don’t have to defend their religion or even their nationality?

Intentionally killing innocent people is wrong, no matter who carries it out or for what higher purpose. It seems, however, that Muslims are unjustifiably singled out. In the past hundred years, millions of innocent civilians have died at hands of campaigns like Stalin’s in the Soviet Union or Hitler’s in Germany. But we did not blame all Soviets and we did not blame all Germans for the crimes. Similarly, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki deliberately targeted civilian areas, but American citizens were not held responsible.

It is, of course, necessary to condemn atrocities such as the one committed at Fort Hood, but it is not alright to extend collective responsibility on an entire community, be that community based on a religion, nationality or race. Muslims should be expected to condemn this man’s actions, but not because they are members of the same faith community. They should simply condemn his actions as human beings.

Syed Salah Ahmed

Nov. 16

The writer is a junior in Saybrook College.


  • Salem Witch Trials

    Mental illness is mental illness, whether it is exhibited by a psychiatrist or a terrorist or both. David Brooks’s NYT Op-Ed entitled “The Rush to Therapy” is dead wrong in describing Dr. Hasan’s actions as evil. Evil may be the RESULT but it is not the motivation.

    see post “Jimmy’s Gray Badge of Courage. . .’


  • FailBoat

    Only 22 percent of foreign-born Arab Muslims living in the US believe that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks. The number jumps to only 40% for ALL Muslim Americans.

    Consequently, only 35% of Muslim Americans believe the war in AFGHANISTAN was the right idea, and only 26% believe the War on Terror is a sincere effort.

    60% of Muslim Americans in the 18-29 age group think of themselves as Muslim first and American second. This number is 47% overall. Admittedly, this is better than in Britain where 81% think of themselves as Muslim first and British second.

    15% of American Muslims have been called an offensive name. 25% claimed to have been a victim of discrimination in the US at some point in their lives. (I think the black American population would like to say collectively — cry me a river). 40% say life hasn’t changed for Muslims since 9/11.

    1 in 4 American Muslims under age 30 believes that suicide bombings can be at least on occasion justified to defend Islam.

    Citation: http://pewresearch.org/assets/pdf/muslim-americans.pdf

    The threat to America is Violent Islam. I do not care if this brand of Islam is “true” Islam, “radical” Islam, “misguided” Islam, or “fake” Islam. It’s unimportant to me. What is important is that – as I outlined in the comment thread referenced in this letter – Islamic terrorism has been the overwhelming form of terrorism in the United States. Islamic terrorism (from those Violent Islamic terrorists).

    Most Muslims are not terrorists, just as most Yale men are not gay (btw: only 27% of Muslims think the US government should tolerate homosexuality, compared to 51% of Americans overall).

    Nonetheless, we still call Yale the “gay Ivy”. But I would not dream of calling Islam the “religion of choice for terrorists”.

  • FailBoat

    Hint to author: equivocating between dropping atomic bombs in World War II (1945) and repugnant acts of terrorism today is EXACTLY why people think you aren’t taking the threat of violent Islamic terrorism seriously. (61% of Americans believe dropping the atomic bombs in WWII was the right thing to do — the percentage that approves of 9/11 is – believe it or not – far lower).

    Plus, I don’t care if the rest of the world committed genocide a generation ago; Muslims are killing people NOW.

    This seems to be a favorite tactic of writers in this space — pointing out that a generation ago or a millenium ago, other people were killing people too. It’s wholly irrelevant. Americans today are not responsible for their crimes of their forefathers, just as Muslims today are not responsible for the Battle of Tours. But seriously — violent Islamic terrorists killing people is a big problem facing America today.

    I would go as far as to say that it’s a bigger problem than “Islamophobia” or whatever else made up word is in vogue today.

  • Yes and No

    I agree wholeheartedly with one of the author’s fundamental premises – that some of the media (Fox News in particular) engages in anti-Islamic vitriol and is guilty of blaming (or insinuating that we should blame) American Muslims for what happened at Fort Hood when in reality you cannot and should not, as the author expresses, hold American Muslims responsible for what appears to be an isolated tragedy similar to instances of workplace violence. Within hours of the attack, a man in Florida engaged in an office shooting. That shooter was not Muslim, but shared something in common with Hasan: they are both nut jobs.

    I must, however, take issue with the author’s reasoning and comparisons, most of which have nothing to do with the topic at hand. Hitler – quite possibly the greatest evil of the 20th century – was an authoritarian ruler who exploited mob psychology, German predisposition to following orders, historical prejudices, and the dark side of the human psyche to commit the worst genocide in the world’s history. It was not religiously motivated, and contrary to the author’s claim, many Germans WERE held responsible for their actions. Allied soldiers would force German citizens to look at the emaciated bodies of their victims, trials executed many Germans who committed atrocities, and the country was occupied for years and divided between the Soviet Union and the US – we even still have an air base there. As for Stalin, he was an authoritarian leader who purged political enemies and millions of innocents and used fear to rule his people with an iron fist. What does that have to do with religious extremism or terrorism? And how would we blame the Soviet people for this – he wasn’t elected and none of them wanted to be tortured or executed, trust me. Also, the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki have nothing to do with terrorism or Islamic fundamentalism, yet the author brings them up. Many would still say (including myself) that those bombings, however tragic, were justified and in the end saved way more Japanese lives than they took. It was estimated that upwards of 1.5 million casualties (an order of magnitude higher than the atomic bomb attacks) would have been sustained by American soldiers and the Japenese if the US had not used its nuclear capabilities. That was WWII, and debating the decision to drop the bomb wouldn’t make since since this, like the Stalin and Hitler remarks, is a complete non-sequitur. The author cites instances of a single person (all suspiciously major WWII players) or central governments making decisions that resulted in many deaths. Religious extremism and the mindset that fosters it is generally decentralized, needn’t be state sponsored, and can be taught in schools and homes (hard to imagine daddy passing down to his son “how to commit purges as dictator of a communist regime,” but not so hard to imagine passing down the doctrine of jihad).

  • Yes and No

    Finally, the author’s claim that only a “very tiny minority” in the Muslim community “happen to favor unjustified violence” is certainly true in the United States, but is patently false if examined globally. A majority of Palestinians favor this form of violence (Hamas – a savage terrorist group – was, after all, democratically elected to lead the government in Gaza), many Saudi citizens support notions of Jihad, a large population in Egypt supports these acts (i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood), many in Yemen, and large numbers in many other Islamic countries. It is impossible not to see that we are not at war with a general extremism, but specifically with Islamist extremism. We must not blame our fellow American Muslims for what happened at Fort Hood since it was not their fault at all – I agree with the author wholeheartedly on that point. Non-Muslims have every right, however, to call on Muslims everywhere in the world – particularly in the countries where Islamism is popular or even prevalent – to denounce Jihad and extremism and actively work to destroy these movements that give Islam in general a bad name. Collective blame is fundamentally wrong, but so is failing to realize that these extremist attitudes do not belong to as tiny a minority as the author would have you believe. I’m confident that Americans will be able to recognize the nuances of the war on terror and realize how these views are not mutually exclusive.

  • Nimbus

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think it matters that Muslims think of themselves as Muslims first and Americans second. I would kind of expect anybody who is religious to put their religion first, as in, “For God, for country, and for Yale.”

  • Charles

    Great letter, but for future reference, comments on the YDN boards are generally better to ignore.

  • SY ’11

    Syed, I get where you’re coming from, but you always write these letters and you always miss the point.

    Nobody is saying that Muslims are inherently violent by birth. Nobody is saying that Muslims pop out of the womb with bombs strapped to their chests.

    What is being said, however, is that the RADICALS of your religion are killing a lot of people right now, even though they, as you point out, represent a very small minority. If anything, that makes the whole thing scarier. The commenter you cited didn’t say that it’s as clear as the earth orbits the sun that all Muslims are violent, he said that it’s clear there’s a connection between Islam and today’s most violent form of terrorism. And there is.

    I understand your impetus for writing this; I’d probably do the same thing, to a certain extent. But when you start comparing it all to our dropping the atomic bomb, it becomes misguided. You’re in denial, and if you really want to defend the reputation of your religion, I suggest you spend your time writing letters to would-be terrorists asking them to please stop blowing up our buildings… not to us asking us to cut them a little slack after they do.

  • Hieronymous

    I agree with Syed- he speaks with a sense of conviction

  • related article

    Slate has an article on this precise topic:


  • Styped

    “I find it puzzling that many Americans, and especially some segments of the American media, expect the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims to answer for the actions of some of their co-religionists.”

    Wait, how again is this true? I’m pretty sure this didn’t actually happen. In fact, commentators rather condescendingly acted as if normal Americans were so full of bigotry that they would inevitably act in violence against Muslims both after 9/11 and after this…and guess what? It still hasn’t happened. In fact, we’re still making 90 year old white women go through extra security at airports in order to not offend Muslim sensibilities.

    Groups hoping to gain power always employ false persecution narratives. Unfortunately, people are beginning to catch on Syed, they’re growing weary of your nonsense, and the strategy is being rendered ineffective.

  • Ali

    A couple of points.

    1) Mohammed was a warrior. He forcibly converted non-Muslims to Islam, and those that would not convert he, or his followers, frequently killed.

    2) There are many passages in the Koran and Hadiths that encourage Muslims to kill non-Muslims who refuse conversion to Islam, or who stand in the way of Islam’s expansion.

    3) This past spring the Arab League invited and warmly embraced the genocidal leader of Sudan to their meeting in “moderate” Qartar.

    With a prophet like Mohammed, holy books like the Koran, and leaders like those in the Arab League it makes one wonder just how “small a minority of Muslims” harbor some or many Islamist beliefs.

    The following short link is to a Muslim who attended the same mosque as Nidal Hasan. Is he simply another of this “small minority”?


  • Ali

    You know what, on second thought I would like to recant basically everything I have ever posted on this website.

    In fact, I hope God (Allah) forgives my racist and islamophobic transgressions.

  • yale


    Your points are well taken and it is clear that it is easy for some to look over the majority of American muslims who are very peace-loving.

    However, I do take objection to your point that such tendencies are uniquely directed against Muslims. Even in the examples you used, I fear you were slightly off. People DID hold German citizens responsible for WWII and people DID hold all Soviets responsible. (We even held people with even possible connections responsible, hence the red scare.

  • concerned

    Remember people of the world are judging Radicals and Extremist!!!! Not the law bidding citizens, whether you choose to believe that or not. Im sure if Christians become suicide bombers, shoe bombers, and extreme radicals….we too would be judged accordingly.

  • Recent Alum

    #9/”Hieronymous”, Next try you try to impersonate a great commenter by making a ridiculous statement, at least try spelling his name correctly.

  • DoodleLover

    “In the past hundred years, millions of innocent civilians have died at hands of campaigns like Stalin’s in the Soviet Union or Hitler’s in Germany. But we did not blame all Soviets and we did not blame all Germans for the crimes.”

    Yes, but we rightfully blame totalitarianism, communism, and Nazism. Likewise, radical Islam deserves universal condemnation, and peaceful Muslims SHOULD feel the pressure to loudly distance themselves from the madness. Peaceful Muslims in America have no excuse. Unlike well-meaning Germans under the Nazi regime, speaking out against radical Islam in America doesn’t automatically earn you a death sentence.

  • @Comment no.2

    I dont care what Islam preaches and how it is represented by Muslims. I just dont understand one of your points. How is an American preffering a religious identity to an regional one matters? Jews are much better observers of their religion than the Muslims. We have christians who divide themselves in Baptism and Catholism.. Does it show terrorist Ideas? how can a need to connect with a community be considered a tendancy towards terrorism..
    those statisics were not only irrelavent to your arguement but critical of every religious person
    As they say *You just missed it*

  • Fed Up

    Muslims need to hold their own violent believers feet to the fire as it is the acts of some that supposedly give Islam a bad rap….or is it just a bad virus religion? If the US and the other nations are going to fight terrorism then they should go to the top and hold, the clerics, mullahs or whatever the leadership calls themselves responsible as they truly do know who is responsible.
    I am fed up with these man made religions for man to hide behind to control the masses to murder in the name of a God that no one really knows. All religions are responsible to some degree or another for their evil handiwork, but some more than others. Believe what you want to, believe but don’t screw with me. Islamists definately need to get their crap together and snuff the bad out of their religion or it should be done for them while it can. Somehow I do not think that they will take that personal responsibility as they all are secretly pulling for a Jihad anyway as they believe in their fairy tales and dogma.

  • Ali

    It’s a trip how every time a Muslim “goes Muslim” on us we are told how the “actions of one” do not represent the entire religion.

    Has anyone kept count of the number of “lessons of one” committed by Muslims throughout the world over the past two weeks? Below is some information that will help us count all the “lessons of one”.

    Weekly Jihad Report
    Dec 12 – Dec 18 Jihad Attacks: 42

    Dead Bodies: 182

    Critically Injured: 362

    And here is another hint:

    Monthly Jihad Report
    November 2009 Jihad Attacks: 139

    Countries: 14

    Religions: 5

    Dead Bodies: 529

    Critically Injured: 1075