Military killings test Chattanooga’s unity
Arm guardsmen, governors urge
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — As the death toll rose to five, a handful of governors ordered National Guardsmen to take up arms in response to the brazen attacks on two Tennessee military sites.
In Chattanooga, a city that prides itself on strong ties between people of different faiths, some Muslims feared the community’s perception of them had changed after the shooting rampage Thursday.
A 24-year-old man and fellow Muslim killed four marines and wounded three others, including a sailor who died Saturday from his wounds.
Mohsin Ali, a member of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, said he hoped the local community didn’t dissolve into turmoil the way others have in the region over the building of mosques and other matters. Peaceful coexistence has largely prevailed.
“We, our kids, feel 100 per cent American and Chattanoogan,” said the Pakistani-born Ali, 42, who is a child psychiatrist. “Now they are wondering if that is how people still look at them.”
Valencia Brewer, the wife of a Baptist minister, knows how she’ll try to see Muslims as the days after the horrific shooting turn to weeks.
“I think the way you have to look at it is this was an individual person. You can’t point at all Muslims because of this,” she said.
Ali and Brewer were among more than 1,000 people who attended a memorial service Friday night at a Baptist church for the victims. Ali, one of the speakers, railed against shooter Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, who died in police gunfire after his attacks, as a “murderer” who committed a “cowardly and cruel” act.
“He shot our marines and our police officers, shattered the peace of our city, frightened our children,” Ali said. “He destroyed the lives of his whole family. He did his best to spread hatred and division. Disgraceful. And we will not let that endure.”
As FBI agents served a warrant on the Abdulazeez home Thursday, two women wearing Islamic head coverings were seen being led away in handcuffs. But FBI agent Jason Pack said Saturday no arrests have been made in the case.
Authorities are looking into the shooting as a terrorism investigation and whether Abdulazeez was inspired or directed by any terrorist organization. They still don’t know what motived Abdulazeez.
The president of the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga said Abdulazeez’s father said he felt blindsided and did not see changes in his son.
“He told me that he had never seen it coming, and did not see any signs from his son that he would be that way and do something like that,” Bassam Issa said.
Meanwhile, governors in at least a half-dozen states ordered National Guardsmen to be armed, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott moved his state’s Guard recruiters from storefronts in urban areas to armouries.
Ali said immigrants such as himself owe a debt of gratitude to America and the armed forces protecting it, because they often know first-hand what it means to live in countries without personal freedoms or the rule of law. Near the end of the service, at Ali’s urging, dozens of Muslims received a standing ovation as they stood in support of their city and in allegiance to their nation.
It was a remarkable show of togetherness in a region where relations have sometimes been tense since the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
About 160 kilometres to the northwest, plans to construct an Islamic centre drew stiff community opposition for years in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where the mosque finally opened in 2012. Opponents then filed suit to block plans for an adjoining cemetery, but a judge tossed the case last year.
That sort of thing hasn’t happened in Chattanooga. Instead, many non-Muslim neighbours attended an open house for the $2-million, domed Islamic Center of Greater Chattanooga when it opened in 2012.
Raising money and building the mosque, school and community centre took about five years. People in Chattanooga never questioned it, said Issa of the Islamic Society.
“We just feel very lucky to be in a city like this,” he said. “I wouldn’t know why a city chooses to be tolerant and peaceful versus a city that may have some trouble with such a project.”
Still, the events of the last few days have left some on edge, particularly the young. The end of Ramadan is usually a time for celebration, but events at the Islamic center were cancelled after the shootings. A sign on the door Friday encouraged visitors to go to the memorial service instead.
Ali said he plans to offer counselling for concerned members of the Islamic community, and that might help ease concerns. But he isn’t sure.
—The Associated Press
Sophia Ensley (left) comforts Barbie Branum beside a memorial in Chattanooga, Tenn., Saturday.