A terrible thing happened on Monday, 15 April at the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed and scores maimed and injured towards the close of the Marathon by two brothers. The act was atrocious; bodies were strewn everywhere and victims were young, old, male or female and from places all over the country and the world. To begin this post let us remember the names of the victims, who were Martin Richards, 8 years old; Krystle Campbell, 29 and Lu Lingzi, a Boston University graduate student. There are others who have been forever damaged by this senseless act of violence; they, corporeally, will never be whole again and neither will the Nation; scarred beyond recognition despite the slogans of resilience and courage. No doubt there was plenty of that which was demonstrated that day; people helping and saving the lives of strangers in ways that tested the endurance of both the helper and the victim. Such displays are what make America great and humanity even greater, we reach across cultural divides and help those who need it without regard to race, color or creed.
However, just as I began by mentioning the names of the victims of America’s latest tragedy without any regard to where they come from, what they believe and the color of their skin, no such consideration is given to the perpetrators of this heinous crime, Dzhokhar A. Tsarnaev,19 and his 26 year old brother Tamerlan who have had their ethnicity and faith dragged into the fracas of this brutal and callous act of murder in attempts to further demonize the perpetrators, their ethnicity and their faith. Indeed such identification in today’s American jargon is just as calculated and fatal meant to cut through bone and flesh and spirit as any pipe bomb or drone missile. Taking a page from age old, proven concepts, words are the first weapon used to denigrate and ease the way towards genocide and cultural extermination and they have been used with precision and skill.
It began with President Obama’s first speech about the bombing where he was remiss in not saying the word “terrorism“. Pundits, reporters and the general public hung on his every word at the first speech just hours after the bombing and they all made sure to point out that this one word, terrorist was missing from his vocabulary at that time, as if somehow the deaths of three innocent lives was less important without have that word uttered. Every speech thereafter was flooded with the buzz word enough that it obscured any other point or lesson to be learned from this latest tragedy and instead returned America to its roots of racist ideology which points to “others” as being unworthy of consideration, or the rights and privileges of citizenship. Somehow, the purveyors of this brutal form of 21st century America punditry are able to parlay all of what’s negative about our diversity and turn tragedy into a plethora of causes it seeks to push at the expense of our civic cohesiveness. Terrorism, immigration, radical Islam, government have become piggy back issues detractors have seized upon to push before the deceased have even been accorded their rights to an eternal rest.
Radical Islamic terrorism of course was the first cause which was promoted to an anxious audience before the last bomber was even captured. That mantle of “radical Islam” was hung around the necks of the two brothers simply because of where they hailed from or what videos they might have added to their YouTube channels and yes it is true there are Muslims who embrace an ideology of violence to address what they consider are injustices but that is not relevant to Islamic beliefs as much as it is to their own personal demons. That Muslim organizations the world over denounced for the umpteenth time the brothers’ murderous rampage and the expulsions the older brother faced twice from Muslim masajid in his area because of his virulent rhetoric should speak to the legitimacy of Muslim condemnation of what took place that fateful week. It’s impossible to find, outside of the imagination of the two suspects any rationality for their murderous impulses, among ANY community much less America’s Muslims. That seems to go unnoticed however, as the events of the week invigorated a smoldering Islamophobic community that has been practicing its craft since 911.
No one could see that this violence so closely echoes all the other episodes of mass killing that have become sporadic constants in our lives, borne out of rage and disenchantment with things personal and social? How could a fan of movies kill scores of people in his object of obsession a movie theater; how could an emotionally dependent young man kill his doting, loving mother on his way to seek revenge on others who were not guilty? The Boston suspects’ actions sprouted from a rage that began with a dysfunctional family dynamic that was no more clearly evident than during the “interview” given by Ruslan, the uncle of the suspects. Even his act of contrition seemed filled with rage……his staccato cadence dripping with anger towards his nephews and family. Yet the painfully obvious was ignored by most who weighed in on the side of fear and racial animus in describing what happened in Boston. “He was a Muslim”, declared Tom Brokaw, the implication nothing else matters; to some not even the crime he committed was important absent reference to his faith. Indeed , even being white offered the two no escape from the curse of being Muslim. Joan Walsh in one of her pieces for Salon.com noted,
Over its long history America has regularly featured a process of sorting white from non-white, even among European immigrant groups. I’m not a huge admirer of the now-dated whiteness studies academic movement, but those scholars did help illuminate the way various groups of European immigrants, particularly the Irish, but also Jews, Italians and Eastern Europeans, “became” white over time, in a complicated process of determined assimilation, gradually lessening prejudice by existing “white” society, and most important, the arrival of newcomers to take the place of the scapegoated non-white other, alongside the definitive non-white scapegoats, African-Americans. Embracing racism and xenophobia, sadly, could be a shortcut to white status for previously non-white European immigrants.
…..or disavowing one’s faith. America is in the firm grip of racism and xenophobia towards Muslims. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, black, American, European, Caucasian, Arab, Asian…..you are all lumped into the one category of being a terrorist and therefore the rules of civilization no longer apply to you.
Which brings me to the final point of this tragedy and that is how quickly everyone seems to talk about abandoning the rights we’re given by our Constitution and codified over the years. The ugly specter of torture and waterboarding has resurfaced….some claiming the younger brother should have been tortured to extract information. Mention has been made of declaring him an enemy combatant, indefinite detention, not allowing him access to a lawyer, trial by military tribunal in essence making him persona non grata effectively disappearing him from our view. How many of us know what has happened to Jose Padilla, another American who was subjected to labyrinthine exegesis of a judicial system determined to strip him of his humanity because he is Muslim. The fear index has produced in all of us this desire to rid ourselves of undesirables by any means necessary, including illegal and unconstitutional ones in order to feel safe. What’s unfortunate about that is we falsely apply our fear to groups of people with a very large bull’s eye on their collective backs while ignoring other groups we’re not so interested in targeting at this time. Honestly, we are a Nation awash in violence. It plagues our cities and communities on a daily basis. On the normal scheme of things killing three people is about the average for violent deaths in America. Not even a week after the Boston bombers were corralled five people were murdered in Seattle, Washington in a domestic violence dispute that barely made the news and we don’t even know who they are or why they died. Moreover after hearing about such news one would not even suggest that we resort to the types of punishment now being mentioned in media that should apply to the lone Boston bomber suspect in custody. No race, tribe, group of people are immune to the ravages of violence and Muslim Americans are no exceptions, but just like we don’t do in 99% of the violence we encounter as a Nation daily, ascribing a motive to that violence that centers around ethnicity or religious belief or imparting to an entire group of people the sins of some one of its wayward members is as evil an act as any perpetrator of a crime. Fix this America!