Muslim-American Soldier at Fort Hood Tells Al Jazeera: U.S. Army Training is ‘Propaganda Against Islam’

By Dan Joseph | September 16, 2010 | 5:21pm EDT

(CNSNews.com) - Zachari Klawonn, a Muslim U.S. Army specialist stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, told the Arabic-language television network Al Jazeera in a recent interview that training he had undergone in the U.S. military was “propaganda against Islam.”

Fort Hood is the Army installation where Maj. Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, executed a terrorist attack last November. Hasan has since been charged with murdering 13 people and attempting to murder 32 others. Al Jazeera is based in Qatar. 

U.S. Army Specialist Klawonn told Al Jazeera he was subject to disrespectful comments and harassment of his property from fellow soldiers and from the Army command itself.

A spokesman for Fort Hood told CNSNews.com that, as an American, Klawonn had a right to express his views and that he had informed his commanding officer that he was going to appear on Al-Jazeera. The spokesman said the Army did not agree with what Klawonn said.

When Klawoon appeared on Al Jazeera on Aug. 24, the moderator asked, "Could you tell us how this anti-Islam campaign which coincides with the month of Ramadan affected your situation at the Fort Hood base which witnessed a shooting by a former Muslim American soldier? How are you being treated these days?"

“Absolutely," said Klawonn. "Even before that horrific attack [by Maj. Hasan], the overwhelming sense of Islamophobia was present in the U.S. military. It’s evident within the anti-terrorism training as well as the vibe in the general environment around me, and unfortunately some of the discrimination I have been through is the result of that environment."

(NOTE: Video and transcription from the Arabic courtesy of the Middle East Media Research Institute.)

The Al Jazeera moderator pointed out to Klawonn that there is a mosque at the Pentagon and that the U.S. military presents itself as open to minorities and those who "suffer" in American society. Klawonn responded that his training in the U.S. Army was "propaganda against Islam."

"I think there’s a pretty big misconception of the reality of what’s going on in the military and what the mainstream media says," said Klawonn. "The reality is that there is a sense of Islamophobia and there is a big misunderstanding of the Islamic faith and that contributes to people’s negative notions coming into the military. Also the training we get and the information we are subject to constitutes propaganda against Islam.

"Unfortunately we are going through this right now,” said Klawonn. “I think this speaks volumes about us as a society right now. I mean, as an American citizen and a service member I see the opposition of American citizens to my right to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero as a big slap in my face as a service member."

"Islamophobia is evident within the military but I think it’s also within our American society right now, unfortunately," said Klawonn.

Asked by Al-Jazeera for examples of harassment which he had personally experienced, Klawonn replied: “I received numerous disrespectful comments and even harassment to my personal property from an array of soldiers, even in some instances from the command itself.

"But more importantly the training that I have been subjected to is a complete slap in my face,” he said. “Any Muslim who happens to be in the service and is subject to this training can see that this is an absolutely false interpretation of Islam. It’s heartbreaking to see this as a service member.”

Chris Haug, Army branch chief of media relations for Fort Hood, told CNSNews.com that Klawonn has the right to share his personal opinions with the media, even though the Army disagrees with the statements Klawonn made, which Haug said were “inaccurate.”

“He’s an American citizen” Haug said. “As long as there is no security risk, the military can’t stop him from speaking to groups like Al-Jazeera or saying these type of things.”

Haug said Klawonn informed his battalion commander that he would be speaking to Al-Jazeera.

“(Klawonn) informed Lt. Col. Douglas White about this interview on August 24th at 8:23 a.m.,” Haug said. “He expressed an interest in raising the Muslim awareness around the post--to express a positive image for Muslims, and so forth. He’s been working directly with our spiritual fitness center. There’s been quite a bit of movement in terms of movement in the Muslim community in a very positive way.”

Klawonn is being represented by the Military Freedom Foundation, an organization founded by former Air Force officer, Michael “Mikey” Weinstein. The foundation did not respond to requests from CNSNews.com to interview Klawonn.

Transcript of Al-Jazeera Interview with Zachari Klawonn (translated from Arabic by the Middle East Media Research Institute):

Interviewer: The hate campaign against Muslims affects the Muslim soldiers as well, who number over 3,700. They wear the US military uniform and are ordered to fight in Muslim countries while at the same time they are subject to racial harassment at the hands of their fellow soldiers.

One of these soldiers is Mr. Zachari Klawonn. Even though the American press has written extensively about his suffering, his situation has not changed much.

We are pleased to have Mr. Zachari join us from Austin, Texas.

Mr. Zachari, Al-salaam aleikum.

Zachari Klawonn: Alaikem Salaam. I’d like to say Ramadhan mubarak to all the viewers who are watching.

Interviewer: Could you tell us how this anti-Islam campaign which coincides with the month of Ramadan affected your situation at the Fort Hood base which witnessed a shooting by a former Muslim American soldier. How are you being treated these days?

Zachari Klawonn: Absolutely. Even before that horrific attack, the overwhelming sense of Islamophobia was present in the U.S. military. It’s evident within the anti-terrorism training as well as the vibe in the general environment around me, and unfortunately some of the discrimination I have been through is the result of that environment.

Interviewer: Some say that the military establishment displays more openness towards minorities. There’s a mosque at the Pentagon which has been mentioned in the American press lately. How can you be talking about suffering when the military establishment claims that it is the most open toward minorities toward women, and toward all those who suffer in society in general?

Zachari Klawonn: Well, I mean, I think there’s a pretty big misconception of the reality of what’s going on in the military and what the mainstream media says. The reality is that there is a sense of Islamophobia and there is a big misunderstanding of the Islamic faith and that contributes to people’s negative notions coming into the military.

Also the training we get and the information we are subject to constitutes propaganda against Islam. Unfortunately we are going through this right now. I think this speaks volumes about us as a society right now. I mean, as an American citizen and a service member I see the opposition of American citizens to my right to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero as a big slap in my face as a service member. For someone who enlisted in the U.S. Army to uphold and defend our Constitution, to have that right almost completely battered and taken away is morally shattering.

Islamophobia is evident within the military but I think it’s also within our American society right now, unfortunately.

Interviewer: One last question and thank you for joining us. Can you give us some examples of the harassment you are talking about, which you experienced personally?

Zachari Klawonn: Sure, I received numerous disrespectful comments and even harassment to my personal property from an array of soldiers, even in some instances from the command itself. But more importantly the training that I have been subjected to is a complete slap in my face. Any Muslim who happens to be in the service and is subject to this training can see that this is an absolutely false interpretation of Islam. It’s heartbreaking to see this as a service member.

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