The Boston bombings were a dark tragedy, without question. They represented a moral failing that we so often forget is present in the thread of daily life, and three people lost their lives. Although the occurrence was probably the most talked about news item this week, very little attention was given to the victims of both the bomb itself – and the highly irresponsible media aftermath.
First, almost immediately, news outlets such as CNN and Fox News reported that the “person of interest” was a Saudi national. Not only was he injured in the blast, but there was nothing suspicious about his demeanor to suggest any criminal activity. Next, the New York Post put a 17-year-old Moroccan track runner, Sulahaddin Barhoum, on its cover. His photo spread like wildfire for no other reason than, perhaps, the color of his skin. He attended the race because he plans to run his first marathon in September, and wanted to watch the Boston race “for real.” He denied any involvement and said, “I was terrified, I have never been in trouble and I feared for my security.” Not only did this rash move put him and his family in grave danger, but it is sure to follow him for years to come, if not for the rest of his life.
Such lax journalism did much more than slander two innocents, however. It fueled a vicious backlash against Muslims and the Muslim community. Abdullah Faruque, a Bengladeshi network engineer, was at an Applebees on April 15th when he was attacked by a group of men. Only when he arrived home with a dislocated shoulder did he hear about the bombing at the Boston Marathon and understand why he was accosted.
On April 18th in Malden, Massachusetts, a 26-year-old hijabi physician was pushing her daughter in a stroller when she was punched in the shoulder by a man who screamed, “(Expletive) you. (Expletive) you Muslims, you are terrorists, you are the ones who made the Boston explosion.” The Malden police department arrived at the scene and soothed her, and shortly afterwards Mayor Christenson called her at her home.
As if that wasn’t enough, on April 19th a Cambridge mosque site was vandalized with derogatory messages: “For the murderous scum bags. What were you thinking? Hitler tried terror and failed as will you.” The graffiti has now been painted over.
These cases are a minuscule representation of the inevitable waves of hate that result from irresponsible journalism. And now that the current live suspect has been identified as a Chechen Muslim, Fox News has declared that the “ties between Islamic extremist groups and Chechnya” are “well-documented,” and the notion of ‘Islamic radicalism’ has once again gripped the nation.
Though theories are rampant about whether the man and his late brother actually committed the crime, every major news network seems set and decided on their motives. The sensationalism no doubt generates high readership, clear because the Boston bombing has been extensively analyzed and even minor developments continue to make headlines. But on a fundamental level, it threatens the safety and livelihood of Muslims everywhere. There is an evident desire to categorize. People want to put a name, face, and label to hate and crime, in order for it to be easily eradicated. There is this hope that it is possible to spot evil in a crowd and eliminate it before tragedies like the Boston bombing occur. But it can be found ANYWHERE, and disservice is too forgiving a word to describe what the media has done to Islam and Muslims. Even nonwhite non-Muslims have something to fear, as evidenced by the senseless murders of Sikhs in the past and their present concern.
It is unfortunate that some Muslims have turned to apology for crimes that we have not committed and do not endorse or condone. One only has to open the Quran to find messages of peace and forgiveness, and we should not let these callous voices drown us out, nor should we allow for the degradation of our beautiful religion.
“And the servants of Most Gracious (God) are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say ‘Peace!'” (Quran 25:63)