I am in lockdown because Suspect #2 in the Boston Marathon bombing is on the loose down the street.
Since late last night, when the headlines only read, MIT officer shot; I have been glued to the computer, following a live video feed on WCVB, the local news, and a live twitter feed on the Boston Globe. Because almost immediately, the report of the initial shooting was followed by reports describing multiple police forces had identified the getaway car, and were in active pursuit of what was overheard on Boston police scanners were ‘two men of Middle Eastern descent.’ Based on this overwhelming show of force; and the perceived appearance of the alleged perpetrators – I had seen several still images of the Suspects #1 and #2 and thought they looked Middle Eastern, too – I immediately figured the shooters had something to do with the bombing.
This post is not intended to be a news story; you can read the details on your own. And it is not going to provide a description of the atmosphere in town – before, during, and after the race – or, background information of the towns themselves - Watertown, Boston (Copley Square), and Cambridge (aka The People’s Republic of Cambridge) – with respect to the events occurring here. (The race passes a couple of blocks from my home.) I hope to do so, when this is all over. I just want to point out what I consider to be a salient aspect of the news coverage.
There has been virtually no focus on the facts that the brothers, ethnic Chechen, are Muslims; that they identify themselves on their FB pages as good Muslims; and that, their father named them after historical Muslims who advocate the very violence subsequently perpetrated by their namesakes. Even the boys’ uncle, interviewed at his home in MD, tried to preempt any discussion that his nephews’ actions were somehow related to their being radical Islamists. Asked why he thought the men had done such a thing, he replied, “Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves – these are the only reasons I can imagine,” sternly adding, “anything else, anything else to do with religion, with Islam, is a fraud, is a fake.” (He further expressed extreme remorse for the attacks, offering to get down on his knees to beg forgiveness from the victims. None of the reporters followed up by asking whether this quest for absolution included prostrating himself to those victims of the Jewish faith.) But thus determined to insulate the Muslim faith from any scrutiny with respect to these acts which, however late in the game, even President Obama conceded constitute terrorism; he was anxious to redeem the family’s Chechen ethnicity. “You put a shame on our entire family — the Tsarnaev family — and you put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity,” Tsarni said.
Before the brothers were officially identified as both the suspects shown in the FBI videos from the Boston Marathon bombing and, the suspects in the murder of the MIT police officer; local Muslims were already hoping the perpetrators were not ‘one of them.’
Grief and dread for Boston Muslims
Like so many others this week, local imams have been praying since Monday’s bombings.
They’ve been praying for the victims. They’ve been praying that the fanatic who did this is caught quickly and brought to justice.
And they’ve been praying for something more: Whoever it is, please don’t let him be a Muslim.
“What will happen to us if they arrest someone and that someone turns out to be a Muslim?” Imam Talal Eid, a chaplain at Brandeis University, said Wednesday.
He recalls the backlash that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He remembers being afraid to send his children to school for a few days afterward, and the way some began to view all Muslims with suspicion, even hostility. A few fringe-dwellers even spoke of internment camps like those that held Japanese-Americans during the Second World War.
The country has changed since 2001, Eid said. People know more about American Muslims now, are less afraid of them, less likely to make the many pay for the sins of the unhinged few. But we have a long way to go.
“I am still worried,” he said. “We are still labeled. Muslims may be out of the red zone, but we are still in the yellow zone, not the green zone.”
If the terrorist turns out to be a disaffected survivalist, a white supremacist, or some other flavor of domestic extremist, he will stand in a courtroom alone, with only infamy for company. If he is a Muslim, thousands will be called upon to answer, by association and stereotype, for his actions.
Leaders in the community will then go right into what Ibrahim Rahim, imam at the Yusuf Mosque in Brighton, calls “apologist mode.”
The attack fills him with immense grief, said Rahim, who leads a largely Arab-American congregation of several hundred. Born in New York, he has lived in Boston since he was 12, and he feels this attack as viscerally as any native. But all week, his grief has been bound with dread.
“As you process it, you think, ‘Oh boy, this looks like something from overseas, that might be affiliated to Islam, and here we go with that again,’ ” he said.
Preparing for that possibility, Rahim has been strategizing for days with another imam, William Suhaib Webb at the 1,000-member Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury.
“We have to figure out a narrative,” Rahim said. “We’re talking about a unity service on Friday if it turns out to be what we hope it isn’t.” He and other imams will make it clear that anyone who takes a life has no right to call himself a Muslim, that whatever brand of Islam extremists may practice, it has nothing to do with the faith lived out by their congregations.
“We do so much interfaith work, we apologize so often for many of the things that do not reflect Islam,” he said.
Still, both imams know, all the work they have put into building bridges to the wider community will be threatened.
But the past few days have made Yusufi Vali, executive director of the Islamic Society of Boston, more optimistic that those bridges are strong enough to withstand an onslaught.
“I’m proud to be a Bostonian,” he said. “The way our community has bonded together has been an amazing feeling inside this tragedy.”
As he spoke, three Boston police cruisers and one state trooper sat outside the mosque, just in case. Since Monday, he has heard from officials at two local temples offering support: “It may be hard being a Muslim in Boston this week,” one e-mail read. “If there is anything we can do, from one congregation to another, please let me know.” A longtime Mission Hill resident, worried about a possible backlash, offered to gather neighbors who could escort Muslim women to the grocery store.
“This is what Boston is about, right?” Vali said.
Yes, that is what we are, or try to be.
But please, let’s not put it to the test. Again.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.
“[H]ard to be a Muslim”? Well, how about, being an 8-year-old Christian boy standing at the finish line to watch his father run the Boston Marathon, standing next to the Muslim jihadist who planted the bomb which minutes later killed him? Or the man whose legs were blown off below the knees minutes after the bomber, looking him straight in the eye, placed the weapon of mass destruction on the ground right next to him? “[P]ossible backlash”? Like what? Like not trusting anyone who espouses a faith which, when it is not encouraging its adherents to commit violent jihad, is sanctioning such terrorism, with no questions asked?