Muslim American Soldier Fights Islamophobia On His U.S. Army Base

Posted on March 24, 2010


Klawonn praying in his army barracks

By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010; A08

At 2 o’clock on a Monday morning, the sound of angry pounding sent Army Spec. Zachari Klawonn bolting out of bed.


Someone was mule-kicking the door of his barracks room, leaving marks that weeks later — long after Army investigators had come and gone — would still be visible.

By the time Klawonn reached the door, the pounding had stopped. All that was left was a note, twice folded and wedged into the doorframe.

“F— YOU RAGHEAD BURN IN HELL” read the words scrawled in black marker.

The slur itself was nothing new. Klawonn, 20, the son of an American father and a Moroccan mother, had been called worse in the military. But the fact that someone had tracked him down in the dead of night to deliver this specific message sent a chill through his body.

Before he enlisted, the recruiters in his home town of Bradenton, Fla., had told him that the Army desperately needed Muslim soldiers like him to help win the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet ever since, he had been filing complaint after complaint with his commanders. 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. But nothing changed.

Then came the November shootings at Fort Hood and the arrest of a Muslim soldier he’d never met: Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people and injuring more than 30 in a massacre that stunned the nation. And with it, things only got worse.

Staring at the note in his hands that dark February morning, Klawonn trembled with panic and frustration. His faith, he believed, had made him a marked man in the Army. Now the November rampage had only added to his visibility.

Please click here to view a gallery of pictures depicting our brother and compatriot, Zachari Klawonn.

Most painful slur

For Klawonn, this is what it means to be a Muslim soldier in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings: You hide your flowing jalebi robes in your closet. 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:


“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.”

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