California: “Terrorist” and “raghead;” those are the words that a Muslim U.S. Army veteran who fought in the Iraq War, says he found written on his work locker earlier this month.
“It’s a shitty feeling,” Mohammed Abbas, a 32-year-old man with health issues said. But it’s a feeling he knows well, Huffington Post news reported.
Abbas, who is of Palestinian origin, was born in the United Arab Emirates. He immigrated to the U.S. in 2000, living in Georgia and later California. He taught himself English and went to high school, where he says “ignorant” kids would ask him if Osama bin Laden was his cousin, or if he was going to bring a bomb to class.
In 2007 after working a series of low-paying jobs, Abbas decided he wanted a better life and joined the Army. After Abbas graduated from basic training, he says, his drill instructor pulled him aside. “Watch out more for American soldiers than the Iraqis,” said the instructor, who knew Abbas was being deployed to Iraq.
Abbas remembers that he “didn’t really get” what the instructor was talking about. But he learned soon enough. “Look at that Muslim...” “We should kill all of them.” “They smell like goats.”
Those are the phrases Abbas remembers hearing from members of the 101st Airborne as they drove around in a Humvee during a mission in Iraq.
“And I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m a Muslim too,’” Abbas says he replied. “You’re talking about a whole religion.”
After that, Abbas, who was working as an Arabic translator, says his fellow soldiers started calling him “terrorist,” “raghead” and “anti-American.”
“I felt like I wasn’t safe,” Abbas said. “Usually when you enter base, you feel safe. I didn’t feel safe. I felt safer in combat zones than in the base.”
Abbas says he was transferred to another unit, where conditions improved significantly. Like many other immigrant soldiers and Marines, Abbas took his U.S. citizenship oath in a palace once owned by the ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
After 400 days of serving in Iraq for his adopted country, Abbas went home.
While dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments, which qualified him for disability benefits, Abbas retired from active service in 2010 and took a job as a tools and parts attendant at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Barstow, California.
“In early 2011, I was told I was a foreigner and I needed to go back to my country,” Abbas recalls. “I filed a complaint and it didn’t go anywhere. And after that, a few months later, I was called a ‘raghead’ while I was walking inside the base.”
Later, someone wrote “raghead” on his locker. Fearing retribution, Abbas says, he scratched off the graffiti.
Then, he says, one day after the December 2015 terror attack in nearby San Bernardino, he walked up to the base to find a group of armed police telling him he wasn’t allowed inside. Co-workers had accused him of threatening either to blow up the base or to shoot everyone there.
According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties group assisting Abbas, the Marine Corps Police Department and Bomb Squad raided Abbas’ desk.
CAIR says a military investigation determined that the allegations against Abbas were “unfounded” but “no action was taken against the person who made the false accusations.” Abbas was allowed back on the base in February.
Abbas maintains that the accusations against him were not only false but motivated by Islamophobia. He says one of his alleged accusers, a superior named Sherry Hazelett, was known to post anti-Muslim images on Facebook.