The shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, has raised questions about the experience of Muslims who serve in the military. Rafael LanTigua, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard and a Muslim chaplain candidate, says Muslims have served in the armed forces since the Revolutionary War.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The shooting at Fort Hood has raised questions about the experience of Muslims who serve in the military. For more, we turn to Rafael LanTigua. He's a lieutenant in the Army National Guard and he's a Muslim chaplain candidate. He joined the military in 1994, and has served three tours of duty overseas. He joins us now from a mosque in Austin, Texas. Lieutenant, welcome to the program.
RAFAEL LANTIGUA: Thank you very much, I appreciate it. It's an honor to be here with you.
NORRIS: Lieutenant, I'm curious about your reaction to the shootings at Fort Hood, specifically when you heard the name of the shooting suspect.
LANTIGUA: Well, my first reaction was I was awestruck by the incident, in and of itself. I was hoping that it would not be someone affiliated with the Muslim faith. But at that very moment it was my first thought - was my first reaction.
NORRIS: Mm-hmm. And as you learned more and realized that it was someone who was a practicing Muslim?
LANTIGUA: You know, my conclusion or my assumption was this is obviously someone who is not familiar with the teachings of the religion. I mean, going to the mosque or dressing a certain way does not necessarily mean that you understand the teachings of the faith.
NORRIS: An aunt of the alleged shooter, Major Hassan, told the Washington Post that he had faced name-calling, a certain amount of harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the September 11th attacks. She alleged that he was called a sand jockey and other names. Does that surprise you?
LANTIGUA: Not really, because that - there are always are going to be individuals that - within a large organization such as the military - that will make derogatory comments. But what we have in the military are - we have regulations and processes in place to address those incidences. So, those things did take place. There were courses of action, various ones, that he could have taken, whether it be through his chain of command, whether it could have been a EEO complaint or - I'm sorry, MEO complaint. So, there are various avenues he could have taken to address those issues and they could have been addressed accordingly. So...
NORRIS: Have you ever faced this kind of thing yourself?
LANTIGUA: Oh, yes. And the vast majority of them have been due to just ignorance on the part of individuals. Once we sit down and have a conversation and say, look, you know, this is what we as Muslims believe and this is what Islam teaches. And once those bridges are built, those concerns - or suspicions or stereotypes or what have you - they go away. So, ignorance is a key component as to why we have the misunderstandings that we have, not just on the part of Americans but also on the part of Muslims.
NORRIS: You know, I spent sometime on the Web this afternoon and there are dozens of postings on the Web where people are expressing all kinds of views. Several people think that Muslims at this point should not be allowed to serve in the military. How do you counter that kind of thinking?
LANTIGUA: The reality is we combat fears with knowledge. And Muslims have been - well, firstly, Muslims have been a part of the American society since slavery. And that's a well-known fact. I mean a lot of - many of the slaves that came over were Muslims. Additionally, Muslims have been serving in the Armed Forces since the Revolutionary War. We have Muslims that are buried at Arlington Cemetery. We have Muslims that have fought and died in Iraq and in Afghanistan - and continue to serve honorably. You can't allow one percent to say they represent the other 99 percent.
NORRIS: Thank you, very much.
LANTIGUA: Than you, ma'am.
NORRIS: Rafael LanTigua is a lieutenant in the Army National Guard and he is also a Muslim chaplain candidate.
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Kolleen Alldridge (from left), Gavyn Alldridge, Kim Rosenthal and Alice Thompson light candles Saturday at a small memorial in the courtyard of the apartment complex where Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan lived prior to the Fort Hood shooting.
A frame grab from a security video shows suspected shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan in a convenience store in Killeen, Texas, early Thursday morning, before the attack. Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, was unconscious and on a ventilator Friday, contrary to early reports that he had been killed.
Patricia Villa, next-door neighbor to Hasan, stands in her apartment doorway in Killeen. A day before Hasan allegedly went on a shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army Base, he gave Villa furniture, clothing and a copy of the Quran.
Muslims across the country are condemning Thursday's shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, and offering prayers for the victims.
Muslim civil rights groups say what the alleged shooter did was a brutal, personal act and could not have been committed in the name of Islam. "This is a sad day in our nation's history, and we reiterate the American Muslim community's condemnation of this cowardly attack," said Nihad Awad, who heads the Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington.
Awad said while little is known about the suspected shooter's motives, there is no defense for such actions. "No political or religious ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence," he said.
At the Southern California Islamic Center, a small crowd remained late into the evening. Worshipper Mohammed Shamim Hussein said many stayed to pray for the victims in Texas.
"It's really hard — I can think about their parents, their brothers and sisters. It really is shocking news for everyone," he said.
Shamim said when he found out the shooter was Muslim, he couldn't help but worry about backlash.
Groups from the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee to the Muslim Public Affairs Council issued statements urging calm and cautioning members in their communities to take precautions.
Several organizations said they had already received hate e-mails, and a death threat had been sent to a mosque in Irving, Texas, outside Dallas.
In Los Angeles, law enforcement was sent to area mosques, according to Sheriff Lee Baca.
"The sheriff's department currently is deploying deputies, sheriffs and radio cars to Islamic centers and mosques within our jurisdiction, and that, I think, is just a precautious measure," he said.
Los Angeles' interim police chief said local officers are on the lookout for any attacks against Muslims.
The executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Salam Al-Marayati, said he's thankful for the support but that police alone can't protect Muslims.
"We need to remain vigilant, but at the same time, we don't want people to change their lives completely," he said. "We want them to go on with their regular lives — but at the same time, we live in very extraordinary times."