On June 14, 2017, a Christian Minister, Robert Doggart, was sentenced to 20 years for a plot to burn down a mosque, a school, and a cafeteria in Islamberg, NY. Read here. Have you heard of Islamberg? It is a rural hamlet in the town of Tompkins, Delaware County, NY. It was founded in the late 1980s by a Pakistani Sufi cleric and a group of primarily African-American Muslims who left New York City, reportedly to escape crime, poverty and racism.
Doggart was not charged with terrorism, and at his sentencing Wednesday, Judge Curtis Collier told him, "You are not a monster. … In many respects, you lived a life of honor.” (Democracynow.org)
I am still trying to fathom Judge Collier’s remarks. ‘Shocking’ would be an understatement. I also question why Doggart was not charged with terrorism, notwithstanding that I am not a legal expert.
Let me lay out my credentials upfront. Call it a disclaimer or sorts. I am a Muslim woman. Does that make me a biased? You bet! Read no further if you feel that this is just another Muslim, roiling in self-pity. Read on, and know what it’s like to be in a Muslim shoe, or sandals on this hot summer day.
Lets start with the definition of terrorism. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as "the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives". Many other definitions abound, but there is a common thread: it is premeditated violence against innocent civilians to further an ideological objective.
According to the FBI, Robert Doggart was stockpiling weapons and plotting to travel to Islamberg, a town in upstate New York to kill Muslims using explosives, an M-4 assault rifle and a machete. According to a federal investigation, Doggart saw himself as a religious "warrior" and wanted to kill Muslims to show his commitment to his Christian god. I will leave it up to the reader to judge if this act meets the definition of terrorism. Incidentally, Doggart had run for congress in Tennessee in 2014.
And now, my pet peeve. If you know a Muslim, you have heard it every time an act of terrorism takes place. Why is it that when the perpetrator is a Muslim, the murder of civilians is labeled an act of terror, but when a non-Muslim murders (or in this case, plots to murder) innocent civilians on ideological grounds, it is considered a hate-crime, or attributed to mental illness? Had Doggart succeeded in executing his plan, would the authorities have called him a terrorist? We convicted him for plotting to indiscriminately kill—excuse me—discriminately kill the Muslims of Islamberg, yet we stopped short of charging him with terrorism?
Think of what this does to the psyche of Muslims in the United States, people like me, as in regular, ordinary, some extraordinary, fellow Americans you are likely to bump into on the sidewalks of Manhattan, or L.A., or anywhere else for that matter. Every time a bombing or shooting takes place, my first thought is, “I hope it’s not a Muslim.” What an awful thing to say! People are dead, and all I can think of is the faith of the killer. Why? Because, for the rest of the day, and night, and days and nights to come, I will watch my faith being demonized. It hurts! It hurts because it’s personal. It hurts because I love my faith. It hurts because I know that Muslims are not like that; that Islam does not advocate violence, misguided people do. I run for cover, but wait! First I must condemn the act, for if I don’t, we—as in ‘moderate’ Muslims—will be taken to task for not speaking out. I rush to Facebook and Twitter and post statement condemning the attack; and then watch as the world around me berates us for not speaking out. Muslim women in hijab take shelter, but not underground—subways are a no-hijab zone; the streets—best to remove the scarf. I don’t wear the hijab, yet I worry about my safety anyway. Then when Doggart plots an act of terror, he is lauded for having ‘lived a life of honor.’
I don’t know Doggart beyond what is reported in the news media, and like all people, it is possible that he did some honorable things in his life. But this trial was about a plot to commit mass murder. Why he deserved a pat on the back is unfathomable!
So there you have it, my Muslim pitch. And now, my appeal to you:
Try on my shoes, see if you fit into them, keep trying, we Muslims are not ‘one-size-fits-all’. Found the right size? Now try walking in them. It hurts, doesn’t it! Put on those shoes every time a terrorist strikes. Then call me, and we will take a walk together, and share our pain.