As the emotions generated by the Virginia Tech massacre settle and experts decipher what went wrong, let us look back and critically analyze this tragedy from a different perspective. It is interesting to note that Seung-Hui Cho escaped the “terrorist” tag, even though terror is exactly what he sought to inflict. Furthermore, this incident is referred to as a “massacre” and not a “terrorist attack.”

Like most people, as news about the incident spread, I found my heart sinking. However, as an American Muslim, my anxiety levels were super high. While I intuitively knew that no true Muslim would do this, I feared that some crazed lunatic who did not represent us might. I prayed earnestly to not let this be a Muslim. So when the descriptions of the killer surfaced, I felt relieved that Muslims would not have to yet again apologize for something that they had nothing to do with – I was wrong!

It seems that “Islamophobia” in America is worse than I imagined. Fairly rapidly, speculations about the Islamic connection to this incident became widespread. Mainstream media and popular blogs reeked with anti-Islamic sentiments. One Web site talked about blood sacrifices in Islam and concluded: “which leads me to think that there might have been Islamic motivation behind the madness he displayed.” Another cynically stated, “I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, right? [?] Maybe ‘Ismail Ax’ is the name of a friend of his. Or maybe he wanted to remind himself to buy an Ax for his friend Ismail for next Ramadan.” Yet another claimed that “Radical Islam Loves Cho.” Needless to say, these are baseless accusations. Baseless but not benign, for this recurrent demonization of Islam and Muslims reflects the deep-rooted Islamophobia in America and has a profound impact on the social psyche of American Muslims!

Let us shift gears for a moment and consider this: Cho’s videos were broadcast and his actual statements repeated again and again on national media. There were absolutely no references to Islam, but repeated references to Christ and Christianity. Cho explicitly stated, “Thanks to you I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless.” If this was a motivating factor in his senseless rampage, then why, I ask you, was this not termed Christian terrorism? If we substitute a revered Muslim figure’s name in place of Jesus, in this quote, would this not then most definitely be labeled “Islamic terrorism?” (As a side note, Muslims also revere Jesus but do not believe he is divine, and as author of this article, I do not at all intend to call this Christian terrorism, or even think that it is; I only use it as an example.)

Why is it that the term “terrorist” is reserved mainly for killers who happen to be Muslim? Timothy McVeigh is called the Oklahoma City bomber, not a terrorist. The perpetrators of Columbine were shooters. The recent burning of the Neturei Karta synagogue was not Jewish terrorism. The Israeli army’s destruction of Jenin, killing 52, was a massacre, not state-sponsored terror. The killing of civilians in Fallujah, Haditha and other such campaigns of terror are never referred to as terrorism, although that is exactly what they are!

While it may be easy to denounce this as self-pitiful thinking, this is not an isolated occurrence. Time and again, Islam will go to trial for every little wrong committed by any Muslim. In fact, this permeates other aspects of life, as well.

When Muslim women voluntarily don the veil, they are considered oppressed, whereas when Catholic nuns do the same, they are practicing their faith. Why the double standard? Why the irony?

To me, this is blatant and dangerous Islamophobia. The roots of Islamophobia, however, are much deeper. When one examines the writings of historians of the Middle Ages, one is struck by the sheer bigotry toward Muslims. Islamic contributions to science and philosophy are minimized by contending that Muslims never contributed anything to civilization; they merely translated the Greek works. This, of course, goes against all evidence. It was not until fairly recently that the works of Avicenna (Ibn Sina) were still used in medical schools like Harvard as primary texts. Muslim contributions in fields like algebra, logarithms, chemistry and ophthalmology were so fundamental that these disciplines bear names with Arabic roots.

As American Muslims, we love this country and what it stands for, yet we find ourselves castigated from within and without. If we support America blindly, despite its atrocities abroad, the rest of the world sees us as sellouts; if we speak against America’s unjust foreign policies, then we become unpatriotic and traitors and even risk deportation (and there are many such cases). American Muslims are caught between a rock and a hard place.

What happened at Virginia Tech was shocking and painfully tragic, and this is by no means meant to take away from that tragedy. Yet just as we can learn from every problem, let us also learn that perhaps some of our hidden biases may be false and dangerous. As America grieves the loss of its brightest, the media has a duty to investigate and report. Yet, it also has a duty to be fair. We all grieve together for the victims and their families, but we also hope and pray that our fellow Americans rise above this false, narrow, negative stereotypical view of Islam. Racism is racism whether it is against Arabs, Muslims, Jews or others and can’t be good for America.

In my humble and honest opinion, America needs a big-time paradigm change in its attitude toward Muslims. Americans need to educate themselves on what Islam is and who the Muslims are. Ignorance is no longer bliss.

Khaku is a medical student.



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