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Opinion Letter: When Terrorism Is Falsely Linked By Race Or Religion, We All Become The Victims


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Letter: When terrorism is falsely linked by race or religion, we all become the victims

To the Times:

A week after the cruel attack on the Boston Marathon, our nation is still trying to answer that piece of the — who, what, and why — puzzle. Despite our lack of information as to the “why,” we do know some facts as to “what” happened. We know that when the suspects placed their bombs amongst the crowd of joyous spectators, they did not check for the race or religion of their potential victims. Instead, they coldly sought a body count. We know that three young people lost their lives — an 8-year-old boy who once held up a sign “no more hurting people,” an outgoing restaurant manager, and an immigrant who had traveled far from northeastern China to seek an education in our land. We also know that over 150 people were injured, and many more witnesses were traumatized by this event.

The victims of this horror represented a wide spectrum of American society: white, brown, citizen, immigrant, Christian and, yes, even Muslim. Muslims, like their fellow Americans, attended the Boston Marathon as runners and spectators. When the bombs went off, their bodies were torn by the same shrapnel and their hearts raced with the same fear. Unfortunately, in the immediate aftermath, these individuals were further victimized by a public search that dug up prejudices running through our society. Dark skin, compounded with Muslim heritage, led the media and internet sleuths to seize upon certain spectators — an injured Saudi Arabian and a Moroccan-American high schooler — as “suspects.” Tragically, this lynch mob mentality ensnared a Radnor Township family already suffering from the month-long disappearance of their son Sunil Tripathi. For a brief time, Sunil’s name, because of his skin tone and Indian-American heritage, was trending on the Internet as one of the bombing suspects.

Rather than being chastened by these serious blunders, the discovery of the religion of the Tsarnaev brothers will likely embolden the “all Muslims are terrorists” or its analog “all terrorists are Muslims” chorus. The problem with this mantra is that, once again, it is wrong. Since the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, the Southern Law Poverty Center has documented over 100 plots and attacks by right-wing domestic terrorist groups. It has been estimated that 56 percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, 30 percent by eco-terrorists, and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. The stark reality, and continuing danger, of right-wing domestic terrorism was brought to the public’s attention last year when Wade Michael Page, a Neo-Nazi skinhead, killed six people at a horrific massacre at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., on August 5, 2012.

Despite the prevalence of right-wing domestic terrorism, the public reaction to this violence is often muted and more measured. Unlike terrorism involving Muslim suspects, Wade Page’s religion and ethnicity were not vilified. Christians and Caucasians were not tarred and feathered by an affiliation with terrorism, done apparently, in their interests. The same cannot be said for the Muslim American community who, despite frequent condemnations of terrorism and extremism, are assigned collective guilt. Aside from the plain injustice of this double standard, it is also fundamentally unproductive.

The reality is that Muslim Americans, like other minority communities, have a nuanced relationship with law enforcement. While we seek protection of our civil rights and liberties, we often work alongside law enforcement to address potential threats to our community.

In the aftermath of this national tragedy, let us continue to work together to oppose threats to our collective freedom whether they emanate from individuals empowered by racial superiority, religious extremism, or anti-government ideology. Let us recognize the old adage, proven by the complex history of our own country, that individuals, not religions or ethnicities, commit violence. The same religion which inspired the Klu Klux Klan’s terrorism also motivated a Georgia preacher, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who moved our nation forward on a message of justice and unity. “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that,” proclaimed the Georgia preacher. Let us heed these wise words and resist the attempt to usurp a tragedy to service a platform of hate and fear, to turn American against American based on race, ethnicity, and religion.

The darkness of April 15, 2013, cannot snuff out the beauty of the Boston Marathon, an event that brought together the wondrous diversity of a nation. This is the promise of America; it is worthy of protection.

Executive Committee Member



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