What is it like to be a Muslim, or a person frequently mistaken for a Muslim, in the aftermath of an apparent terrorist attack? Americans who don't fit that description can't really know for sure, but three news items from the last few days show that knee-jerk prejudice is inexcusably common. If your ethnic group were treated this way, you'd be walking around paranoid and anxious.
[A] significant minority has shown itself willing to make knee-jerk accusations that do significant harm to perfectly innocent people. Amidst it all, responsible journalists don't disappear the problem. Americans ought to be made aware of all the times innocent Muslims have been victimized in hopes that it makes their would be tormenters less sure of themselves. That is so whether the Boston perpetrators turn out to be Islamists, left-wing, right-wing, or anything else.
The value of speculating about their identity before it is known?
Joe Coscarelli of the Daily Intelligencer highlights the experience of one of those mistaken to be a suspect:
Salah Barhoum, the 17-year-old Massachusetts running enthusiast recklessly splashed on the New York Post cover this morning, is doing okay, all things considered. Despite the tabloid's implications that he and his suspiciously not-white friend were suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, Barhoum hasn't even lost his somewhat naïve faith in the goodness of journalists, "gladly posing for photos and taking media questions outside his home in Revere, Mass.," according to the New York Daily News.
"A lot of people have bags, not just me. I thought, 'Why me?'" he added. "The only thing they look at is my skin color and since I'm Moroccan I'm kind of dark." While he was cleared of any involvement, Barhoum knows there could be lasting damage: "People are definitely going to be looking for me just to hurt me. It's too much," he said. "It's such a disaster. To be blamed for all that injury and death. It's the worst." On top of everything, police recommended he delete his Facebook. If only he could delete the Post.
Rosa Brooks at Foreign Policy commented on the misguided American tendency to dramatize one's personal reaction to national tragedies, even when someone is not directly involved with the events:
Stop. Just stop.
You don't need to keep changing your Facebook status to let us all know that you're still extremely shocked and sad about the Boston bombing. Let's just stipulate that everyone is shocked and sad, except the perpetrators and some other scattered sociopaths.
We Americans have never had to live with the continual insecurity and carnage that is the daily lot for millions around the world, and thank God for that. That doesn't mean we need to wear sackcloth and ashes every day to commemorate the suffering of strangers around the world, but it wouldn't hurt for us to stop acting like a bombing that killed three people has magically transformed all Americans into martyrs and heroes.
So please don't pat yourself on the back for courageously going on with your regular business this week just to "show the terrorists" that they can't intimidate you. Unless you're President Obama or one of a small number of people against whom there are repeated, credible threats, "the terrorists" aren't that interested in you, personally. Carry on. Odds are, you'll be just fine. (Unless you're hit by lightning, which is somewhat more likely than becoming a victim of a terrorist attack.)