A U.S. soldier has revealed that she experienced harassment from fellow soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan because of her Muslim-sounding name.
Although identifying as a Roman Catholic, Sgt. 1st Class Naida Hosan says that fellow soldiers taunted her by calling her "Sgt. Hussein" and asking her what God she prays to, The Associated Press reported.
"I was called Sgt. Hussein, as in Saddam Hussein," she revealed. "Even when I would correct them on the pronunciation of my name, I was still called Sgt. Hussein. I was asked what God I pray to. And there were a lot of references to hajjis, used as a derogatory term."
Before being deployed to Afghanistan last year for a second tour, the 41-year-old Sgt. legally changed her name to Nadia Christian Nova, but apparently that did not stop the harassment.
"My complaints fell on deaf ears every time," Nova said, who is a member of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C. "Any time I would say something about it I was treated like I didn't know what I was talking about or that I'm an idiot or that I was a Muslim sympathizer. It was just a very lonely feeling."
Nova insisted that she wants to stay in the service for at least another eight years until she is eligible for retirement, and explained that she is coming out with her story because she wants to shed a light on a problem in the Army, in hopes that others in the same situation can be helped.
"I don't want this to happen to anyone else if I can help it. It's horrible to feel like people are against you when you are supposed to be on the same team," Nova said.
AP noted that Nova comes from a diverse multicultural background, which makes her a valuable asset to the U.S. army, but open for the type of harassment she said she experienced.
Her father, Roy Hosein, was born into a Muslim family in Trinidad, where his parents had come from India. Hosein married a Catholic woman from the Philippines, Nova's mother, and converted to Christianity before becoming a U.S. citizen. Hosein changed the family name to Hosan in the hopes that his children would avoid discrimination – but that did not have the desired effect.
"He Americanized it," Nova explained. "He got Hosan from Hosanna. He kept hearing it in church."
The U.S. soldier added that her name became a real problem after the terrorist attacks in America on Sept. 11, 2001, which put the spotlight on Muslims.
"After 9-11, I felt compelled to tell people I am a Christian and felt I had to prove I was loyal to the United States."
News and Entertainment website Carbonated TV wrote: "Nova was tortured for believing in what was right and just. In fact she was harassed just for having a name that hinted Islamic association. This proves how much anti-Muslim hatred has infiltrated the U.S. military institutions and how the administrative system lacks justice or even basic support for soldiers being discriminated against. Nova's struggle is a reminder of just this and it remains to be seen if the Army takes effective steps to prevent such cases in future."
Although Nova has filed complaints against the way she has been treated, they have so far been unable to help her case. Still, she re-enlisted to the Army in April, and is preparing to take a senior leadership course followed by a new assignment in Germany.
Nova concluded, "My beliefs aren't any different from what the Army states as its beliefs and values. I would like to be treated fairly."