The tragic death of valedictorian, Raheel Siddiqui, a 20 year old Pakistani-American, uncovered horrifying details of his treatment at the Parris Island, South Carolina Marine boot camp.
Siddiqui joined the camp early March 2016 with a medical clearance and no previous history of suicidal thoughts. A week into training, recruits are picked up by drill instructors. Siddiqui was picked up by Kilo Company, nicknamed “Killer Kilo” and a day later he reported he wanted to commit suicide.
On March 18th, Siddiqui, whom his family has described as being a positive person, took his own life by throwing himself down a 40 ft stairwell after his drill sergeant slapped him. This last abuse came from a long line of abuse which included calling Siddiqui a terrorist. The drill instructor had already been under investigation because of another Muslim recruit whom he forced inside a dryer and turned it on, whilst also accusing the young marine of being involved in the 9/11 attacks.
20 commanders and senior enlisted advisors are under investigation regarding Siddiqui’s death and may be prosecuted, punished and removed from duty.
Shiraz Khan, the family’s attorney, states that “The family does not believe that their son, a patriotic young man, an intelligent young man, would take his own life. To them, it makes no sense… We must understand Raheel’s death is the tragic loss of an American, not just a ‘Muslim recruit.’”
The drill instructor had already been under investigation because of another Muslim recruit whom he forced inside a dryer and turned it on, whilst also accusing the young marine of being involved in the 9/11 attacks.
Michigan’s Democratic congresswoman Debbie Dingell and her Republican collegue Darrel Issa of California met with senior leaders at Parris Island to discuss Siddiqui’s death. Important words were spoken from her, “Private Siddiqui was a son, brother and class valedictorian” she said, “[one] who believed this country represented freedom and opportunity. As a young Muslim man, he truly understood the value of freedom of religion, and all he wanted was to defend the ideals our nation holds dear…This is the very least the Siddiqui family – and the thousands of families across our country whose children serve in uniform – deserve.
“The family does not believe that their son, a patriotic young man, an intelligent young man, would take his own life. To them, it makes no sense… We must understand Raheel’s death is the tragic loss of an American, not just a ‘Muslim recruit.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, Michigan Chapter has called for a federal civil rights investigation and for the rights of religious minorities to be protected.
The death of a Muslim marine recruit opens a discussion on serious topics such as racism and Islamophobia as well as hazing and suicide in the military. According to a statement by the Marine Corps, steps are being taken to prevent further incidents such as this. By adding more officers to supervise training and reviewing the current mental health procedure as well as taking steps to prevent further hazing.
There is also a need for sensitivity training in regards to religion and race. When you think of patriotism you tend to think of our military, a group of men and women who love their nation so much that they are willing to fight for it, to die for it. And to think that knowing this still does not prove that a Muslim can be a patriotic American. Whereas marines like Siddiqui are accused of terrorism while essentially training so that they can fight those very “terrorists.”
Furthermore it brings up the thought that if men and women who are Muslim are treated as such within the military, which is the quickest way to show how patriotic you are, imagine Muslims who are not in the military, or further innocent Muslims in foreign countries where our military is placed. If Islamophobia and the prejudice and mistreatment of Muslims is apparent within the military, imagining those that are not is a terrifying thought.
We hope that Raheel Siddiqui’s death does not go in vain and brings positive changes in the treatment of the military and specifically of minorities. Our prayers and thoughts go out to the Siddiqui family.