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Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
March 24, 2010 1:44 PM   Subscribe

A Muslim American soldier battles on friendly ground. 'In his 23 months in the Army, Klawonn has consistently earned among the highest physical training scores in his unit. He's at the top in weapons qualifications and is the only one in his battalion to be invited to try out for the Special Forces. But the thing that stands out most, says Capt. Christopher Arata, his commander, is Klawonn's impossibly clean record. Not one reprimand. Never even late to a morning formation.' 'You watch your words and actions, censoring anything that could be interpreted as anger. You do so even as you try to ignore the names piled on you. Sand monkey. Carpet jockey. Raghead. Zachari bin Laden. Nidal Klawonn. But the hardest to shake off -- the name that cuts deepest, especially for a man who defied his family and community to become a U.S. soldier -- is this one: Terrorist. "To be looked upon by the people you serve with, by people you've trusted your life with, as the enemy," Klawonn says, sitting in his barracks a month after receiving the note. His voice trails off as he struggles to describe the anger he feels. "It's not right."

'Within 72 hours of the [Fort Hood] rampage, reports of discrimination against Muslims increased by 20 percent, according to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group. "There were soldiers calling in crying on the phone," founder Mikey Weinstein said. "They were hearing things like, 'You can't be trusted,' 'Go back to your own country.' " Within weeks, five Muslim soldiers at Fort Jackson, S.C., were accused of plotting to poison food at the base. The allegations were dropped, but the five were still discharged from active duty.'

The worst humiliation came during a field exercise at the culmination of boot camp. "Not only did I not get this final, ultimate training they said was so important," he said, "all I got to do was be a terrorist, all day long. Unit after unit."

'Klawonn's current roommate, Spec. Arnold Mendez, said: "The crazy part about all of this is, he's probably the best soldier we got. I've seen him run a marathon while fasting. I mean, that kind of commitment and smarts.'

When he's alone, however, Klawonn says his world sometimes feels as though it's collapsing.
posted by VikingSword (54 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
After he was ordered not to fast and pray. After his Koran was torn up. After other soldiers jeered and threw water bottles at him. After his platoon sergeant warned him to hide his faith to avoid getting a "beating" by fellow troops.

Good job there, platoon sergeant. Klawonn is the one whose behavior should change.
posted by kenko at 1:57 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


And people wonder why many Muslims are angry.

"I don't sympathize with [Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter]. What he did was heinous, wrong, unforgivable," he says, pausing. "But when I read about the discrimination he experienced, I have to say, I can believe it. It doesn't excuse what he did, but it explains maybe a tiny part of it. He was a high-ranking officer. A major. At that level, you demand respect. . . . "

He doesn't finish this thought. It hangs in the air and slowly takes the shape of a question: What do you do when you don't get the respect you think you deserve?

posted by Madamina at 1:57 PM on March 24, 2010


Fighting for a freedom he doesn't get to enjoy.
posted by yeloson at 2:02 PM on March 24, 2010 [12 favorites]


Read the article comments, then marvel at Spec. Klawonn's commitment to defend the same people who are telling him he should convert to a different religion if he wants to be treated decently. The best of what America can be is built and protected by people like him.
posted by sobell at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


Accompanying Photos.

Sadly, this seems par for the course. At various times throughout its history, the US military has either encouraged or turned a blind eye to incidents of institutionalized racism, sexism and religious discrimination. The more things change....
posted by zarq at 2:11 PM on March 24, 2010


Jesus, VikingSword, you sure manage to get a lot of really fascinating, thought-provoking stuff posted here that all happens to be incredibly depressing. I don't know if I should be thanking you for the informative posts or begging you to stop.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:15 PM on March 24, 2010 [6 favorites]


By the way, as a possibly hopeful mitigating factor to the heart-sickening thrust of the main post, Mikey Weinstein (whose watchdog organization is linked below the cut) is a goddam American hero.
posted by infinitywaltz at 2:26 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I fail to understand why even one person is surprised by this.

We know that the military is deeply Christian; that atheist soldiers, even exceptional ones like Pat Tillman, have been subject to massive, institutionalized abuse.

We know moreover that this is an organization that has uncomplainingly killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim innocents in the last eight years or so.

If an African-American man joined the KKK and suffered threats, while of course the criminals are responsible for their own criminal activity, you would be justified in wondering why he did it. And yet the Ku Klux Klan hasn't killed even a thousand African-Americans in the last decade...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:27 PM on March 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


Now you know how us Christians feel. We can no longer pray in school, have had all references of our God removed from all govt buildings and now our freedom taken away also. We have no voice left at all.

Really have to stop reading comments sections. Not that they aren't informative, but it's depressing…
posted by monocultured at 2:27 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Weirdly, he'd probably feel much more welcome in Special Forces, where the average intelligence is higher, and raw performance is much more important than superficialities in earning respect.
posted by fatbird at 2:32 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


I fail to understand why even one person is surprised by this.

No one is. That's why it's newsworthy.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:33 PM on March 24, 2010


"An influential lawmaker from New York congratulated Captain Tejdeep Singh Rattan for graduating from the Army Officer Course, making him the first turbaned Sikh officer to complete basic training in over two decades."

Who know - maybe the US Army is actually trying to make things a little better on this front.
posted by GuyZero at 2:37 PM on March 24, 2010


We know moreover that this is an organization that has uncomplainingly killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim innocents in the last eight years or so

While the is no excuse for the abuse this fine soldier is suffering, particularly from people like his platoon sergeant, remarkls like this are also uncalled for. There is no doubt there has been collateral damage done to numerous non-combatants (innocents really isn't the right word and is emotionally charged) it has not been institutionalized or deliberate, more of case of using the wrong tool for the job.

They are an Army, they kill people and break things, and moreover they were not recruited or trained to be an occupying force. This fact alone probably explains the vast majority of non-combatant casualities. If you have been trained to accomplish the mission, your primary concern is not keeping the peace.

So don't find fault and paint the grunts with a broad brush here. Be angry with the command structure (largely civilian for their current missions)that is misusing the army. If you are famalair with Roman history our current standing army is similair to the praetorion guard-the best soldiers in the world at that time. However the newly conquered/occupied regions were not garrisioned with the guard, or even the legions, they were garrissoned with troops trained for that duty and with able prelates. Something our country is not very good at.

BTW I am not saying we should be doing this kind of thing at all (occupying soverign countries that do not form a material threat to our existence).

I also find a very similair vein of thought here on MeFi concerning anyone who is conservative must be a racist. This is no more true than anyone who is a muslim is a terrorist. Both have about as much fact to back them up and are the result of EXACTLY the same kind of thinking.
posted by bartonlong at 2:42 PM on March 24, 2010 [9 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: "We know moreover that this is an organization that has uncomplainingly killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim innocents in the last eight years or so."

But we deeply regretted the loss of life in each and every case. Surely that counts for something?

Next time, don't settle your lands over where the oil is and things will go much better for all concerned.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:43 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


GuyZero: one Sikh has completed this course in 20 years, and you think this is some sign of progress?

I'd also add that this isn't the Army congratulating him - it's a politician. In fact, I don't see the slightest mention of this in any .mil site at all.

(And as you know, Sikhs aren't Muslims, and this guy is Indian, not an Arab, so this is sort of a non sequitur, right? I mean, there are tons of Jews e.g. in the military and they seem to get along fine as far as I know...)
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:46 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


We know that the military is deeply Christian; that atheist soldiers, even exceptional ones like Pat Tillman, have been subject to massive, institutionalized abuse.

Yes. As have many religious non-Christians.
posted by zarq at 2:50 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


remarkls like this are also uncalled for.

I'm sorry, why is this? Is it not a completely true fact?

So don't find fault and paint the grunts with a broad brush here. Be angry with the command structure

As I tiresomely have to keep repeating, "We were only following orders" is not a valid moral or legal defense. If you are going to go out and kill a lot of people who have never offered you or anyone you know the slightest harm in any way, you really can't disclaim moral responsibility just because someone else told you to do it.

It's been 35 years since the end of the Vietnam war, where at least two million people died for nothing. If you join the US military and end up killing innocent people, a lot of the moral responsibility is, in fact, yours.

"What if they gave a war and no one came?"
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:51 PM on March 24, 2010 [21 favorites]


bartonlong: "There is no doubt there has been collateral damage done to numerous non-combatants (innocents really isn't the right word and is emotionally charged) it has not been institutionalized or deliberate, more of case of using the wrong tool for the job."

No, innocent isn't really the right word.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:52 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


(And as you know, Sikhs aren't Muslims, and this guy is Indian, not an Arab, so this is sort of a non sequitur, right? I mean, there are tons of Jews e.g. in the military and they seem to get along fine as far as I know...)

I was originally going to say I wanted to be there to laugh when some bigot called this Sikh a "sand monkey" but I figured I'd try to be upbeat instead.
posted by GuyZero at 2:53 PM on March 24, 2010


Weirdly, he'd probably feel much more welcome in Special Forces, where the average intelligence is higher, and raw performance is much more important than superficialities in earning respect.

Agreed. An old Army Ranger friend of mine once showed me something kind of funny; he brought out some standard Army field manuals which were carefully illustrated, and then he grabbed one of the Ranger guides and pointed out that all the pictures were basically little more than stick figures diagrams.

"You have to have an imagination", he explained. (I'm paraphrasing) "Boot camp breaks you, AIT builds you back up, but leaves you empty and awaiting instructions, but in the Rangers and other special forces teams, you have to overcome all that so you can figure shit out on your own."

Klawonn's story is too depressing for words. It would seem that we have come to favor mediocrity over excellent but different. He should have gotten away from them an into a team that would find value in his skills.
posted by quin at 2:54 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


, there are tons of Jews e.g. in the military and they seem to get along fine as far as I know


Not exactly. Note that this is the dude referenced in TFA.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:02 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think your headline is wrong. It should be "Either you are LIKE us, or you are with the terrorists." It's clear the guy is with them, or trying to be with them. But he sure isn't like them. And thank god for that.
posted by marylynn at 3:02 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


An excellent interview with Mikey Weinstein.

"I was at the Academy for a conference, when my younger son (who had just finished the arduous one-month combat survival training) asked me if it would be possible to sit down and talk. It was June 29, 2004, and he was very troubled. He told me he had been called a "fucking Jew," and that he and the Jewish people had total complicity in the execution of Jesus Christ by numerous people up and down the chain of command at numerous places around the Academy."
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:05 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fighting for a freedom he doesn't get to enjoy.

That's nothing new.
posted by Rangeboy at 3:05 PM on March 24, 2010 [3 favorites]


lupus_yonderboy: (And as you know, Sikhs aren't Muslims, and this guy is Indian, not an Arab, so this is sort of a non sequitur, right? I mean, there are tons of Jews e.g. in the military and they seem to get along fine as far as I know...)

No, there have been multiple incidents in which Jewish soldiers have been discriminated against and proselytized to by their peers.

Mikey Weinstein talks about it here. (I posted this link upthread.) Also see: Private Michael Handman
posted by zarq at 3:07 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think your headline is wrong. It should be "Either you are LIKE us, or you are with the terrorists." It's clear the guy is with them, or trying to be with them. But he sure isn't like them. And thank god for that.

Changing one word of that headline would be sacrilege - these are the words of eternal wisdom straight from the lips of President George W. Bush (in an address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001).
posted by VikingSword at 3:10 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't ask, don't tell for religion too?

I'm just an Arab Christian ho hum...
posted by knapah at 3:27 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


There is no doubt there has been collateral damage done to numerous non-combatants...it has not been institutionalized or deliberate, more of case of using the wrong tool for the job

I find that hard to swallow given the "shock and awe" tactics trumpeted by the Bush administration at the time.

From wikipedia's entry on "Shock and Awe:

Civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure

Although Ullman and Wade claim that the need to "Minimize civilian casualties, loss of life, and collateral damage" is a "political sensitivity [which needs] to be understood up front", their doctrine of rapid dominance requires the capability to disrupt "means of communication, transportation, food production, water supply, and other aspects of infrastructure",[6] and, in practice, "the appropriate balance of Shock and Awe must cause ... the threat and fear of action that may shut down all or part of the adversary's society or render his ability to fight useless short of complete physical destruction."

posted by Kirk Grim at 3:27 PM on March 24, 2010


ich bin ein auslander
posted by Mick at 3:45 PM on March 24, 2010


In some sense, it's reasonable to distinguish between the non-combatant casualties in the Iraq War and the terror bombing of WWII, which deliberately targeted the civilian population.

In this context, it's not a very reasonable distinction to make. At the very least, observing that "Well, they didn't mean to kill hundreds of thousands of civilians" is damning with faint praise.
posted by fatbird at 3:46 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I find that hard to swallow given the "shock and awe" tactics trumpeted by the Bush administration at the time

Exactly-this is what armies do, and more exactly this kind of thing is called manuever warfare and if war must be waged (a different argument) this way of waging war is far less damaging to the civilian population. This is a far different attitude to war than was demonstrated by the combatants in the second world war (mass firebombing of cities is *supposed* to cause massive civilian casualities and is more akin to medievil siege warfare). Shock and awe is supposed to win the war as quickly as possible while leaving as much of the enemy intact as possible by removing the opponents ability to effectively fight back. The modern US Army is really, really good at this. The best mechanized army that has probably ever existed.

I was actually speaking to the damages done to civilians during the occupation and pacification of Iraq and to a lesser extant Afghanistan. In that case that damages are mostly caused by the army being trained for shock and awe style warfare-not police duties. Those two goals are mutually exclusive and a force trained for one will not be good at the other, hence more civilian casualities during the occupation. And my blaming of the civilian leadership expecting the army to do a job it was not trained or designed to do. A very good book on the many different kinds of war and what an Army can do is How To Make War my Jim Dunnigan. A very important book to read to understand what can and what can't be accomplished by force or arms and the modern geopolitical realities concerning this.

However it doesn't change the fact that the attitude displayed toward this soldier is not acceptable and a failure of leadership up his chain of command.
posted by bartonlong at 3:50 PM on March 24, 2010


In the end, his commanders' response to the threatening note was to give him a housing allowance and encourage him to move off base for his own safety.

0_0

the army can't even keep one guy on an army base safe
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 4:20 PM on March 24, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm not sure how targeting and destroying a densely populated city's most vital infrastructure including food production, transportation, water supplies, and communication is seen as only affecting civilians as a secondary, even unintentional effect. It's deliberately dropping bombs on civilians and civilian infrastructure. I don't really care for the comparison with the bombing of Dresden, but I'm sure people at the time might have said the primary goal was to send a message to the Nazis and end the war as quickly as possible rather than to kill a bunch of German civilians for the sake of killing a bunch of German civilians.

I'mma shut up now because I think this constitutes a derail, and I'm possibly treading dangerously close to violating Godwin's Law with all this WW2 stuff.
posted by Kirk Grim at 4:28 PM on March 24, 2010


That's nothing new.

Yep. It's the American Way!
posted by yeloson at 4:30 PM on March 24, 2010


I'm sorry, why is this? Is it not a completely true fact?

(the original statement was "We know moreover that this is an organization that has uncomplainingly killed hundreds of thousands of Muslim innocents in the last eight years or so")

That no one has complained or felt sorry about any death in the military actions since 2001? No, that is not a "true fact". And in fact the military has published statements of regret many times (literally just the first google example - here).

I suppose it depends on what you would consider "complaining". Certainly individual soldiers do, and have (watch many of the documentaries, etc). The organization as a whole has arguably not "complained" (admittedly would be weird to have the army complain about army policy), although they have apologized in many cases.
posted by wildcrdj at 4:34 PM on March 24, 2010


Thanks for posting this, this is sickening that he is the one who is made to move off base when the assholes get to stay. Absolutely stunning.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 4:50 PM on March 24, 2010


I find that hard to swallow given the "shock and awe" tactics trumpeted by the Bush administration at the time.

Or the constant drone attacks, dropping bombs almost at random (more in 2009 than in the entire Bush administration combined.) Not to excuse anything Bush did, but the atrocities of these two wars can no longer be blamed solely on him.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:50 PM on March 24, 2010


one Sikh has completed this course in 20 years, and you think this is some sign of progress?

No. More than one Sikh has joined the Army in the last 20 years. The noteworthy part of the story is that this particular officer was granted permission to wear his turban and not shave his beard.
posted by lullaby at 4:58 PM on March 24, 2010


innocents really isn't the right word

Um, why not?
posted by Saxon Kane at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2010


From the article.
There are 3,540 Muslims on active duty in the military, a tiny fraction of 1 percent of the nation's nearly 1.5 million active-duty personnel.

Can't one just say about a quarter of a percent? Must their contribution be downplayed even in a sympathetic article?
posted by BrotherCaine at 5:22 PM on March 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


GuyZero: one Sikh has completed this course in 20 years, and you think this is some sign of progress?

The longest journey always begins with a single step.
posted by Talez at 5:22 PM on March 24, 2010


The longest journey always begins with a single step.

Sure, at this rate it'll be a century before we get to the end of the block and millennia before we get out of the city...

"one Sikh has completed this course in 20 years, and you think this is some sign of progress?

No. More than one Sikh has joined the Army in the last 20 years.


Um... neither I, nor the article, claimed that no Sikh has joined the Army in 20 years...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:25 PM on March 24, 2010


the army can't even keep one guy on an army base safe

It's pathetic but it's also utter bullshit. The Army could almost instantaneously root this stuff out if they wanted to because they have absolute power over everyone.

For example (and I know this sort of thing isn't completely uncommon) the moment one such incident happens, they put everyone on the base on punishment detail until they give up the culprits, and then give them three months in a military jail and a dishonourable discharge - and if this were something like "soldiers talking to reporters" or "soldiers spreading pacifism" there's no question they would do it.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:33 PM on March 24, 2010 [4 favorites]


reminds me of this awesome Golda Meir anecdote:

When Israel was experiencing an epidemic of violent rapes and someone at a cabinet meeting suggested women be put under curfew until the rapists were caught, Meir shot back, “Men are committing the rapes. Let them be put under curfew.”

can we get a little common sense up in here?
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:44 PM on March 24, 2010 [10 favorites]


Um... neither I, nor the article, claimed that no Sikh has joined the Army in 20 years...

I'm confused. You wrote "one Sikh has completed this course in 20 years" above. So I'm pointing out that this is not true, and that only one Sikh who has been allowed to wear his turban and keep his beard has completed officer training in 20 years. That doesn't mean no other Sikhs have done it. What am I missing here?
posted by lullaby at 8:50 PM on March 24, 2010


Sikh cops up in Canada get to wear their turban instead of a police hat. I'm not aware of it having been any big deal in the end.

I'm not seeing where you're heading with that, lullaby, except for perhaps attempting to moot the progress by claiming that shorn Sikhs have been allowed to complete their training. If that is your point, I think you've essentially completely missed the point.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:07 AM on March 25, 2010


Er, the point being, since you ask, that there are Sikh religious requirements for hair and dress. Those Sikhs that had to be shorn and lose the turban are akin to Jews forced to eat pork in order to graduate.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:09 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bloodsport for All.
posted by Jimbob at 1:11 AM on March 25, 2010


lupus_yonderboy: For example (and I know this sort of thing isn't completely uncommon) the moment one such incident happens, they put everyone on the base on punishment detail until they give up the culprits, and then give them three months in a military jail and a dishonourable discharge - and if this were something like "soldiers talking to reporters" or "soldiers spreading pacifism" there's no question they would do it.

Well, aside from not knowing how mass punishment becomes more acceptable when applied to soldiers (and 'because you can' is not an acceptable answer), this kind of thing doesn't work. You don't get the name of the actual culprit, you get the name of the person the soldiers want to get rid of. It might work in the other two cases you list, because soldiers hate that kind of thing and are more likely to be honest about who it is, but honestly? When it 'worked' in the past you probably just got the guy the soldiers wanted to get rid of then, too.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:58 AM on March 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Well, five fresh fish, I'm an Orthodox Jew and there have been plenty of things I've had to do throughout basic training and regular Army life that would be considered violations of, or lack of adherence to, Orthodox Judaism. Part of the cost of enlisting is conformity. I wasn't trying to make much of a point, other than that the shift here is from "Sikhs able to join the military" to "a particular religiously observant Sikh able to join the military." That's all.
posted by lullaby at 8:54 AM on March 25, 2010


a particular religiously observant Sikh

Sikhism doesn't have a secular branch. It's all pretty much devout followers.

Also, the religion emphasizes the warrior archetype in men, so they have become particularly prominent in security roles. But they always wear the headdress and beard.
posted by krinklyfig at 12:47 PM on March 25, 2010


Thanks for your service lullaby.

Do you have anything to add about the treatment of non-Christians in the armed forces?
posted by rosswald at 1:26 PM on March 25, 2010


Well, aside from not knowing how mass punishment becomes more acceptable when applied to soldiers

I generally find that the entire treatment of soldiers by the military is deplorable. I'm not saying what I would personally do, nor do I find it correct! But it's certainly something the military has done before.

As for the issue of scapegoating... hmm, tricky, hadn't thought of that. Perhaps impossible to beat, I wonder that, given that the penalty for lying to a superior officer can also be a jail sentence and a dishonorable discharge, soldiers would actually do it, but then I'm always surprised by the low level people reach.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 2:27 PM on March 25, 2010


Sikhism doesn't have a secular branch. It's all pretty much devout followers.

Really? I definitely know very little about Sikhism. There was a guy in my platoon in basic training who was Sikh, but he shaved and didn't wear a turban or anything. I don't know if that meant he was necessarily irreligious or what.

Do you have anything to add about the treatment of non-Christians in the armed forces?

It's kind of hard to say anything because it's different everywhere. Certainly the military, much like America in general, is by default Christian. In my experience, the assumption is that everybody is a Christian of some kind, and if you're not... well, there are some people who care and most don't give a damn either way.

I know some Jewish soldiers who've had a rough time, usually with evangelists or other kinds of basic anti-Semitism (of the where-are-your-horns variety), but personally I've never felt mistreated for being Jewish. And likewise, I know some Muslim and Arab soldiers who have caught a lot of crap, and I've seen others get by without problems. But it's not like it's just luck of the draw - SPC Klawonn's leadership has completely failed him. If commanders, and NCOs, don't set and enforce standards, this kind of reprehensible shit goes on.
posted by lullaby at 4:53 PM on March 25, 2010


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