I would like to take the time to address the plight of Naida Christian Nova, formerly Naida Hosan. This is a soldier who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who continues to serve, but has suffered for it. Not the way soldiers suffer together, not through the horrors of war and and moral murkiness of occupation and shaky nation-building. No, Ms. Nova suffered her psychological trauma from the worst source imaginable: from the comrades in arms who were her supposed source of strength and solace, from the very people who were supposed to watch her back and pick her up when she fell down.
And what was the source of this suffering? Ms. Nova was ostracized based on her name, on something she inherited without any say so in the matter. Despite being a Christian, a Catholic, Ms. Nova was attacked solely for having a name that sounded foreign. Whether you look at a rightwing source like Fox News or a left wing one like Huffington Post, the story is the same: she was targeted with demeaning behavior repeatedly, to the point of her contemplating suicide.
Now stop and think about what a massive betrayal of the idealized comrades in arms ideal that is. The soldiers who were supposed to be protecting her life and trusting her to protect theirs were actively making her life so miserable that death was starting to look preferable. They were not only shirking their duties, they were performing the exact OPPOSITE of their duties!
The American military is a rough place, and it breeds rough people. I am not exaggerating when I say that the hardest, most pragmatically sardonic people I've ever met have all been soldiers. When suffering comes knocking, they expect you to suck it up and move on with your life. But there is a difference between tolerating a necessary evil and throwing unnecessary evils in the paths of your comrades. As an institution that supposedly prizes its own efficiency so highly, one would think that the military would crack down on such internal strife. And yet, they turned a blind eye to it, again and again, until Ms. Nova confronted them legislatively and they judged it best to back down.
And still she serves.
In her position, I don't think I would've been willing to shed blood after that kind of institutionalized betrayal.
This is all from the point of view of the military. Now let's flip that over and look at the other side of things - at the religious side.
Perhaps the most tragic thing about these events is, to me, how Ms. Nova got her original name in the first place. This next segment is quoted from Yahoo News, but is paraphrased in many other sources as well:
'Nova's father, Roy Hosein, was born into a Muslim family on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, where his parents had emigrated from India. He converted to Christianity after meeting Nova's mother, a Catholic from the Philippines, and became a U.S. citizen shortly after his daughter was born in New York. He changed the spelling of his family name to Hosan in the hope his children would avoid discrimination.
"He Americanized it," his daughter explained. "He got Hosan from Hosanna. He kept hearing it in church."'
Now let's stop and ask ourselves, in a country that is and remains for the foreseeable future, predominantly Christian, how many of the soldiers insulting Ms. Nova would have called themselves Christian if you asked them? And yet there they were, attacking a sister in Christ. Someone who was willing to die for them. Someone who was trusting America to tell her who it was right to kill. Someone who was making every effort to fit in - eventually to the point of changing her name, a name based directly on glorifying God, to an even more 'American' one than previously.
And even with a new name, she was still attacked.
It's hard to be a good Christian every minute of every day. We all have slipups, and we must be forgiven for them. But every once in a while, I think we all need to stop and ask ourselves if our patterns of behavior are Christian or not. Are we acting in love? Are our actions conducive to an atmosphere of fellowship, compassion, trust and charity?
We are all children of God. There are no enemies in this world. Only people who have forgotten they are family.
So, while I am mystified by the failures of the military from a worldly point of view, from a spiritual point of view I am even more frustrated with the failures of my fellow Christians. And this is a problem that has only gotten worse over time, it shames me to say, with regards to our relationship with the Islamic community.
If Judaism can be considered Christianity's father, Islam is our younger brother. It was not always associated with terrorism, with bombings and violence against civilian. It is so much closer to Christianity than many other religions, yet despite that, so much more reviled.
Since 9/11, our greatest fear seems to be the Islamic terrorist. But does this fear match reality? Based on stats gathered from the Al Jazeera news network, Al-Qaeda has an under thirty percent success rate for its operations. They have killed a total of three thousand fifty-two people in the US. According to FBI statistics, in one year alone our gun homicide rates more than double Al-Qaeda's total US kill count. That's right, every year we kill more of ourselves than terrorists have managed for their entire 'careers.'
Anyone would expect backlash after 9/11. I anticipated it with sadness. But what I did not anticipate, and refuse to tolerate in my fellows, is its continuing rise even as the events of suffering move further into the past. And again, from the FBI, we have the following:
"Hate crimes against perceived Muslims, which jumped up 50% in 2010 largely as a result of anti-Muslim propagandizing, remained at relatively high levels last year, according to 2011 hate crime statistics...."
And the truly unnerving thing about this? The FBI have a habit of under-reporting these statistics:
"A report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in 2005 determined that the actual amount of hate crimes in the country range from 19 to 31 times higher than the FBI’s numbers."
Yes, there are theological differences that stand between a Christian and a Muslim, including some major ones, but is it enough to justify the rampant hatred and fear we see today? Would you react with similar loathing towards a Buddhist, a Hindu or even a Satanist? Towards Marilyn Manson, a man who literally burns Bibles as marketing stunts? Would you mock them, call them names, cast them out from your presence and treat them as being fundamentally opposed to all that you hold dear in life? Would you deny them the right to a place of worship, or react in terror at the idea of them being able to wash their feet indoors? Would you do so on the basis of their name, or their skin color, or their accent - and thus even take the risk of attacking a fellow Christian under the basis that they MIGHT be the 'enemy?'
If we are a Christian nation, as so many of my fellow Christians like to claim, then it is time we started acting like it. We are called upon to spread the word, but those who choose another path, rightly or wrongly, are still our brethren, still beloved and precious children of God. We must treat them as such. As for the military, I know it's a strict service you're called into, but we must serve God before country and commander, else we do not serve him at all.
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."
And remember, God is love.
So please remind yourself to love Muslims along with all other members of God's family, no matter how different from you they seem to be.