A bombing attack on the Boston Marathon Monday left three dead and at least a hundred injured. But before it was even clear what happened, many had already decided who the perpetrators were.
First of all, there was an immediate reply from the far-right – Muslims are responsible, no facts needed. The most horrible example is here. But there are plenty of others. I’m not going to elaborate on the far-right response too much since others have already done it, and I don’t exactly want to give these people any more attention than they deserve.
However, direct hatred was not the only form that anti-Muslim prejudice took yesterday. The New York Post released a dramatic narrative of the event at 4:30 PM eastern time. Citing “Law enforcement sources”, the post described a “20 year old suspect” who was a “Saudi Arabian national” and “smelled of gunpowder” was responsible for the attacks. And the Islamophobic internet gleefully jumped all over it.
The report turned out to be false. Well, not entirely false. The police were questioning a Saudi Arabian national. But he was far from a suspect. In fact, he is a student who fully cooperated with the police. He even told them where he had dinner the previous night. The police searched his apartment and subsequently ruled him out as a suspect. And here’s how he was “caught”, according to the police chief of Boston,
They see him running away from the device. Now, a reasonable person would be running away. But this person had noticed him before. This is a civilian — chases him down, tackles him, turns him over to the Boston police. The individual is being looked at [and] was suffering from burn injury. That means this person was pretty close to wherever this blast went off, but not so close as to suffer the serious injuries that other people did.
So, in other words, this man had brown skin and was close to the blast. Jeez, I can’t imagine why burn injuries and a fear of being suspected for terrorism by being Saudi and close to an exploding bomb would make somebody run. Also, the man who tackled him was not a police officer, but a civilian. In other words, this man was assumed to be a suspect by a civilian, then by the police, then by the media, based on his nationality.
Adding to this sort of open, awful prejudice was even more subtle prejudice. In the words of Hammad Moses Khan, the word “Muslim” was used seemingly as a synonym for the terms “terrorist” and “bomber.” When many sources refused to call the attack a “terrorist” attack, it was clear what they really meant – they didn’t know if it was committed by a Muslim, yet.
If all this seems like a nonsensical, unimportant thing to talk about compared to the impact of a bombing, consider what it’s like to be assumed to be complicit whenever any mass killing occurs until proven otherwise. Imagine what its like to hear of a deadly attack and think “God, I hope they aren’t the same religion that I am.” The tweet “Please don’t be a Muslim” was retweeted over a hundred times by Muslims across the world. And truthfully, the panic amongst the American Muslim community is palpable, as Khan wrote,
Within our communities, texts and emails were circulated urging people to be careful. There might be hate crimes tonight. Women with hijabs and men with beards may become easy targets. No one knew how the day would unfold and what the night would bring. Overwhelmingly, American Muslims were afraid. Over and over again, the same refrain was shared: No, not again – not another 9/11, not another decade of being hated.
This is all so heartbreaking. Because even if the bomber turns out to be a Muslim – which is not impossible, though also not super-likely, in my book (might do a post on that later) – that doesn’t mean all Muslims are complicit in his act. The people who are responsible for acts of violence (besides the perpetrators themselves) are those who incite to violence. So maybe the blood of those killed in the Boston Marathon is on the hands of some extremists, even if we don’t know what sort of extremists, yet. But this means that if there are attacks on the Muslim community, The New York Post should be taking the share of the blame.