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Shooting Spotlights Muslims In Military

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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.