WASHINGTON (JTA) — Mikey Weinstein is probably best known for defending Jews from alleged bigotry and harassment in the U.S. military. In the past few days, however, he’s been raising questions about whether there’s an anti-Muslim bias in the service as well.
Weinstein, the founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, says Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s alleged killing of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood is inexcusable and reprehensible. But he also believes it is important to investigate reports of harassment that Hasan allegedly faced as a Muslim in the military — mistreatment that Weinstein says could have contributed to his mental state.
“There’s enough out there” to look into, Weinstein said. “I’m not excusing him, but did it affect him or was he just a maniac to begin with?”
Weinstein cited media reports quoting members of Hasan’s family saying that someone had put a diaper in his car and told him, “That’s your headdress,” and that a camel was drawn on his car with the words “Camel jockey, get out!”
Weinstein also provided a letter, with the name withheld, from a Muslim woman and wife of a member of the military in which she described how her best friend on the base, immediately after the shooting, told her that “Muslims shouldn’t even be allowed in the U.S. Army” and that she repeatedly heard things like “Go back to your country” and “F-ing Muslims” as she shopped at the base commissary.
Weinstein, who spent 10 years in the Air Force as a military attorney, or JAG, said he also doesn’t believe reports that Hasan’s colleagues hesitated to report his changes in behavior because of political correctness. In fact, he claimed, Hasan’s superiors would have been sympathetic to hearing such charges because of their strong Christian beliefs.
Weinstein would like to see military leaders make an “unadulterated clarion call” that Americans shouldn’t “paint all of Islam with a broad brush” and emphasize a “zero tolerance policy” of any religious harassment.
A 1977 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, from where his two sons and daughter-in-law also have graduated, Weinstein argues that Jews, Muslims and most members of the military who are not an evangelical Christian face a hostile environment from what he says are “fundamentalist Christians” who dominate the armed forces and are constantly trying to proselytize others.
Others involved in the military say it is true that there have been occasional issues regarding the treatment of members of minority faiths or the pushing of an evangelical worldview by some officers, but they insist the problems are nowhere near as extensive or pernicious as Weinstein claims.
One longtime military chaplain, now retired, said he doesn’t doubt the reports of the Muslim woman that Weinstein cites, noting that such comments could be heard in many small towns throughout America.
“It’s terrible but not impossible to believe,” said the chaplain, who asked not to be identified, before adding that "there’s no conspiracy.”
The chaplain also said he disagreed with Weinstein about Hasan’s colleagues, saying that “definitely people do not want to be perceived as bigots” in the military.
Mainstream Jewish groups have generally declined to comment on the shooting at Fort Hood, waiting for more details on the investigation to become available.
Mark Pelavin, director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism and associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, did send a public letter to the Rev. Pat Robertson criticizing the televangelist for declaring in the wake of the attack that Islam is not a religion but "a political system, a violent political system, bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination."
Last weekend, 100 mosques and 100 synagogues participated in joint activities as part of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Weekend of Twinning.
Long planned, the timing was fortuitious, said the foundation’s president, Rabbi Marc Schneier, because it increased interest and offered an opportunity for Jews and Muslims to talk about the internal struggle of American Muslims in addition to relations between Muslims and Jews in the United States.