City of Brass

City of Brass


The Boston marathon bombing and the Saudi national

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

UPDATE: the Saudi national has been cleared of all charges by police.

For the American public, the horrific images out of Boston yesterday were far more explicit than images from warzones and conflicts around the world. This attack was not the deadliest ion American soil, but equal in malicious, evil intention: to strike at the innocent public and cause terror and fear.

And this is the insidious nature of terrorism, for fear leads to anger and anger leads to hate.

The natural questions from a tragedy like this are simple: who, and why? Why is probably easier to answer – hate. Only hate can move someone to act in cold blood, to murder innocents (including an 8-year old child). But the question of Who takes time and investigations and evidence – something that requires patience and wisdom, not anger and hate. Unfortunately, the former qualities are in short supply and there is a surplus of the latter, especially among the general public.

Case in point – there are numerous reports that a Saudi national was taken into custody immediately after the bombing:

This was enough to send hate sites like Jihadwatch and Atlas Shrugs into overdrive, declaring “Jihad in Boston” and “Jihadi arrested in Boston bombing”. What are the facts?

  • The Saudi was not arrested by police, by was “tackled” by a bystander for acting “suspiciously”.
  • The Saudi suffered serious burn injuries from the blast and was running away at the time he was grabbed by the bystander.
  • The Saudi was taken to a hospital for treatment and is cooperating with police, while denying any involvement with the bombing.
  • Boston police authorities deny taking anyone into custody, and say that the Saudi is being treated as a witness, not a suspect.
  • Fox News has identified the Saudi by name (which for his privacy, I will not repeat here) and he is a 20-year old scholarship student.
  • Police searched the Saudi’s apartment in Revere, MA. The Saudi volunteered to have the police search his apartment.

(references: CBS News, Washington Post, Fox News, Christian Science Monitor, and the New York Post.)

It is still possible that this Saudi student was involved, of course. We simply do not know yet. But based on the evidence and reporting known thus far, it is far too premature to declare that he was a “jihadi” and that the Boston bombing was “jihad”. In fact, the circumstances of his detainment suggest that the bystander’s suspicions were motivated by fear, and stereotype. Of course once he was labeled as suspicious the authorities had no choice but to detain him.

This is an extreme example of how fear from a terrorist attack has direct impact on Muslims and persons of Islamic or middle-eastern ethnic appearance. It also isn’t the only example; yesterday an American Airlines flight from Boston to Chicago was forced to return to the gate because two men, not seated next to each other, were speaking Arabic. “Concerned” marathoners on the flight became alarmed and the two men were escorted off the flight at Logan.

This is how the terrorists win. They cultivate fear and paranoia in the public, especially towards Muslims1. Of course, Muslim Americans have borne that increased scrutiny and fearful suspicion with grace, and have played an instrumental role in preventing other acts of terrorism.

Does this mean that Islamists were not behind the Boston marathon bombing? Of course not, it is simply too early to tell. But that hasn’t stopped agents of the Islamophobia Industry such as Spencer and Geller from making hay (and profiting from) the tragedy.

The way to beat the terrorists is simple: to refuse to be terrorized. As long as these acts can turn us against each other, then the bad guys are winning. That holds true if the perpetrators of the bombings are muslim extremists, or if they are right-wing extremists. We can’t fall into easy blame of actual muslims or right-wing conservatives for the actions of their extremist fringe. Another (conservative) blogger, Pejman Yousefzadeh, put it best:

May I therefore propose that if a left-winger is found to have been responsible for these bombings, we should find that it does not and should not mean that all left-wingers are violent and murderous, that if a right-winger is found to have been responsible, it should not mean that all right-wingers are violent and murderous, and that if Muslims are responsible, it should not mean that all Muslims are violent and murderous? Whoever did this likely possesses some political/religious beliefs that are roughly similar to the political/religious beliefs of a larger particular group, and that larger political group is likely disgusted beyond measure by the attacks. We witnessed tremendous displays of humanity in response to the blasts. Let’s not ruin that humanity by seeking to use the attacks in order to vilify a certain segment of the population.

And that is the answer to the barbarity of terrorism: the nobility of humanity. That is how we will prevail.

1 This is why so many muslims’ first thought on hearing of a terror attack or other tragedy is to reflexively think, “please, God, don’t let it be a Muslim”. It is a Muslim American’s fear of the possible hate that arises out of the non-Muslim’s fear. Of course, whether the perpetrator is Muslim or not does not (or at least, should not) matter. But this is how terrorism divides us and pits us against each other.



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