Friday, October 7, 2011

#36- Going to War

Oversimplified family tree of a crazy religious family
The word came down in December of 2002 that my unit was activated to go to war.  I was devastated.  Not only was I leaving home for the unknown but I had only 7 days to pack and leave for training.

I had to get my financial affairs in order as well as say goodbye to friends and family.  It was very tough to leave behind all that I have known.  I felt helpless as my nightmare of going to war was coming true.

We trained in Fort Stewart, Georgia.  I remember the frenzied pace of our training in order to get us prepared to be shipped to the middle east if needed.

The world was in an uneasy state as we all wondered what would happen to the push to investigate Saddam Hussein's nuclear cache of weapons.  There were protests from California to New York and even Australia to prevent the US from going to war.  I was hoping that this would persuade the decision makers not to send us but it did not work.  I was under the assumption that this was a democracy but I was wrong.  From what I recall, Congress agreed to go to war along with President Bush citing that weapons of mass destruction were in the possession of the Iraqis.

Hasan Akbar.  The soldier convicted of throwing a grenade in a tent.

People were very wary of Islam and Muslims at the time.  It didn't help that news of a Muslim soldier throwing a grenade into a tent and killing other service members popped up.  Although I felt that I knew Islam from Malcolm X's movie I realized I didn't know what would cause people to fly planes into buildings and throw grenades into tents.

We eventually got the confirmed word that we were headed "down range".  I was stunned.

When it came to Arab Muslims I realized that the knowledge that I had of them were secondhand at best. It was a popular rumor to say that "those people have been fighting for 1000s of years and will continue to do so".  The people who advanced such thoughts often cite the Bible as a historical reference and proof of divine prophecy when talking of Arabs.  They were referring to the squabble between Abraham's sons Ishmael and Isaac.  At that time that was all the historical knowledge I had to work with in dealing with how all this animosity came to build up to 9/11.

White Abraham being an ass to his Baby Momma Hagar and Ishmael
I wanted to know more about the religion of Islam in order to get an idea of what about the religion could inspire terrorism and thus give me insight into the minds of Arab Muslims.  I thought that this was a very sensible idea because I figured that when visiting a new country it was wise to learn as much about the language and customs of the people as possible in order to make the visit as productive as possible.

It was in this mindset that I asked a Christian chaplain to give me a Qur'an.  The man promised to look into it and days later I got my wish.  Please understand that in the US Army Christian Bibles are easily accessible while other holy texts were harder to come by.

Looking back I didn't understand how my request would have been accepted and the change in percection that it caused.  The chaplain found an Army Qur'an and gave it to my platoon leader.  As we packed our gear in our barracks the young second lieutenant came in and said: "Hey Specialist, here is the Qur'an that you asked for" and tossed it onto my bunk.

I still remember how the room stood still when the word "Qur'an" was said.  I also remember how it felt like slow motion when the book was tossed into the air and landed on my bed. I felt that everyone  assumed that I was going to read the Qur'an and convert to Islam.  That would make everyone uneasy because they wouldn't be able to tell what side I was on.

I looked back at my fellow soldiers and quickly stuffed the book in my ruck sack.  I knew that I had done something that I didn't quite understand.

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