Islam, Internet Islam, and the Boston Bombing
It goes without saying that the Boston Bombings was a terrible tragedy that will be remembered in the eyes of Bostonians and Americans forever. Near the finish line to the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013 at 2:49 PM, two pressure cooker bombs exploded about 10 seconds and a few hundred yards apart from each other. The explosions caused three fatalities and as many as 282 injuries. Chaos ensued over the next several days as the two suspects, brothers, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were on the loose in the Boston area. On April 18, the brothers were involved in gunfire with police, ultimately ending with Tamerlan dead and Dzhokhar to escape and remain at large. The next day, a man in Watertown found a bloodied, wounded man, and called the police. This turned out to be Tamerlan, wounded 20 hours previously in the gun fight with police. Close to 9 PM, the Boston police looked to Twitter to share the news, “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won. Suspect in custody.”
The basics of the story aside, the stand out controversy from the tragedy is the religion of the Tsarnaev Brothers. The story becomes exponentially more complex when religion is involved; in this case Islam. There are three main angles that have been taken in regard to the role of Islam in this tragedy. Either that Islam is the perpetrator, victim, or a combination of both.
In today’s culture, with any breaking news, every article must be subject to question about the integrity of its contents and the context of its information. A representative example of an article which points the finger at Islam as the inspiration of the brother’s actions is, “Boston Bombers’ Mom Says Sons Only Guilty of Being Muslim,” written by Kirit Radia April 23, 2013, just 8 days after the bombing. The first impression, immediately given by the title, is that the source of the motivation for the actions of the Brothers in the bombing was straight from Muslim beliefs. Reporters swarmed the Mother armed with questions and in response to an ABC News journalists’ question, “What did your son do?” She replied, “My son just was Muslim. My son was Muslim, that’s it.” The article takes this quote completely out of context to create the perspective that the bombing is the fault of Muslims, and that they are the “bad guys.” Articles from this perspective constantly pull quotes out of context in the way that makes them the most controversial. The fact of the matter is that the News Media is in fact a business, aimed towards gaining profit derived from high ratings and responses. It is no secret that there is substantial islamophobia, extreme or irrational fear of all Islamic persons that is demonstrated in America. With that, articles that trigger this response from people are more likely to attract attention than articles with a title not aimed towards Islam. Consistently are similar trigger words such as “terrorism” or titles similar to “religion to blame?” Titles of this nature both feed off of the power of islamophobia for ratings, but at the same time are responsible for fueling the islamophobic “fire” by having a bias towards publishing controversial articles about the connection between Muslims and terrorism.
Islamophobia Today, a website of Americans against Islamophobia, published an article on April 15 (the day of the bombings) titled, “Fox News Attacks Muslims Relentlessly In Wake Of Boston Bombing,” which reveals some radical and extreme responses to the event. Perhaps the most guilty of such a response comes from the Fox News “liberal” Bob Beckel who went as far as to say that we need to strongly restrict or ban Muslim students from coming to America for education. He continued to say that the roughly 75,000 Muslim students in United States schools are likely to form terrorist motivations and that, “It’s a risky situation.” This is an example of the blatant Islamophobia that is often broadcasted on National Television. Articles like this continue to use the broad generalization of Muslims and point the finger at the entire group as being the “bad guys” or are often described as the enemy who is “poised to take the country down.” This is language that is repeated consistently throughout articles of this nature. With a similar message as the the last from Fox News regarding Muslims being the “bad guy,” the host of “Fox & Friends,” Brian Kilmeade, asked his audience why their couldn’t be more racial profiling of Muslim and Arab people. Statements from this point of view take the previous accounts of Islamophobia to a new level as they suggest that we should be able to eliminate one of their God-given, human rights. This takes us from debates of Human Rights to interpretation of the Constitution and the Freedom of Religion; which prohibits the preference of one religion over another. Freedom of Religion is one of the most known and most significant ideas or morals that are portrayed in the Constitution; from which American life is shaped. Simply enough, statements about the Islam are being made in the media and this defines how serious the problem of Islamophobia is in America.
Yet through all of this headline main stream news titles and stories, how can we not stop ourselves long enough to ask, how do the other, average, normal, regular, ordinary, everyday, tax-paying Muslim American citizens feel about what is happening in our/their country? Luckily, and as you would expect, when you take a moment to dig through the cracks of the media “wall,” you find “real” American Muslims with very strong feelings and reactions to the accusations and statements by the majority of the media sources. In a demonstrative interview of a “real” reaction, “Muslims On Boston Bombings: We’re All Disgusted,” the Host Michael Martin speaks with Muslims: Asra Namani, educator and writer; Dalia Mogahed, Writer in Muslim public opinion; Andre Carson, one of two Muslims currently in Congress. The true value of this article does not come from reading the dialogue, it comes from actually listening to the voices of these three individuals. Notice the emphasize on the word individuals, not a broad generalization of how all Muslims are expected to feel or react. When each person speaks, their voice reveals something that simply is not the same as reading a statement; you can feel how they are feeling and they become more “real.” They change from a simple overgeneralization, to complex individuals with unique lives and outlooks. All of a sudden, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev start to seem a whole lot like two individual outliers in a population; not a representation of a religion made up of well over a billion people worldwide. In the same way that African Americans have struggled with the stereotypes and generalizations about involvement with crime and gangs, Muslims are now dealing with a similar assumption about their culture with extremism and terrorism. Presumption of innocence is not a luxury that Muslims enjoy; they have been victimized.
The different sources have portrayed Islam as either the perpetrator or the victim from the Boston Bombing, but could they be both? Could Muslims be simply striking back to victimization that they are experiencing from the United States? The third major category of media publishing’s represents this belief. “Bomber Motivated by Religion? Media Regurgitates Government Propaganda,” demonstrates the claims that America’s security and fate is in our own hands. After the Boston Bombings, many of the same questions popped up in the media as did after 9/11. “Why do they hate us?” “Why is this happening to us?” These questions are usually followed by an answer that has something to do with them hating our freedom, culture, or way of life; which at first, seems like a fairly reasonable explanation. Then, you hear the comeback to that explanation from Osama Bin Laden, “Contrary to what Bush says and claims — that we hate freedom –let him tell us then, “Why did we not attack Sweden?” … Bush is…misleading you and not telling you the true reason.” He continues to say, “We had to destroy the towers in America so that they taste what we tasted, and they stop killing our women and children… Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.” So the argument is that attacks have not been inspired by parts of Muslim religious practices, they have been motivated by the human nature to fight back against your attacker. But if this is the case, why aren’t Americans standing up to the politicians and saying to stop bombing Muslim nations? Arguments of that nature quickly fuel defensive reactions towards disloyalty and anti-patriotism. With that, it is far more heartening to assume their actions or motivations are inspired by religion. This enables us in our mind to remain the “good guy,” while again deeming them the “bad guys.” It is far easier to point the finger at someone else than to take a look in the mirror; this is classic case of how that perspective is represented.
The media is incredibly influential in the thoughts and opinions of the public about current events, especially those large or controversial in nature. With such a terrible tragedy as the Boston Bombing, the media is inevitably very involved due to the demand for answers. That demand was met with answers from three different angles. Claims that Islam is the problem and that is what motivated the actions of the brothers; disgust from Muslims saying that they are the true victims, and the final claim that Muslims are only acting in self-defense towards deficiencies in United States foreign policies with Muslim nations. All responses make valid and seemingly correct arguements; the truth may lie in a combination of the three.
“Bomber Motivated by Religion?: Media Regurgitates Government Propaganda,” Islamophobia Today, May 15, 2013, http://www.islamophobiatoday.com/2013/04/26/bomber-motivated-by-religion-media-regurgitates-government-propaganda/
“Fox News Attacks Muslims Relentlessly In Wake Of Boston Bombing,” Islamophobia Today, April 26, 2013, http://www.islamophobiatoday.com/2013/04/26/fox-news-attacks-muslims-relentlessly-in-wake-of-boston-bombing/
Garber, Megan, “The Boston Bombers Were Muslim: So,” The Atlantic, April 19, 2013, http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/04/the-boston-bombers-were-muslim-so/275154/
Goldman, Russell, “For Muslim Americans, Boston Bombings Bring Added Anxiety,” ABC, April 18, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/US/muslim-americans-boston-bombings-bring-added-anxiety/story?id=18988357#.UZPZ- bWsiSr
Hirsch, J.M, “Boston Bombing Overview: The Unfolding Of A 5-Day Manhunt For Suspects,” Huffington Post, April 21, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/21/boston-bombing-timeline_n_3127079.html
Jurgensmeyer, Mark, “Don’t Blame Religion for Boston Bombings,” Religion Dispatches, April 22, 2013, http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/atheologies/7060/don_t_blame_religion_for_boston_bombings/
Martin, Michel, “Muslims On Boston Bombings: We’re All Disgusted,” NPR, April 24, 2013 http://www.npr.org/2013/04/24/178805805/muslims-on-boston-bombings-were-all-disgusted
Radia, Kirit, “Boston Bombers’ Mom Says Sons Only Guilty of Being Muslim,” ABC, April 23, 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/International/boston-bombers-mom-sons-guilty-muslim/story?id=19021562#.UZPZ9rWsiSq
Strenski, Ivan, “Was Islam Responsible for the Boston Bombings, or Was “Internet Islam”?, Religion Dispatches, April 24, 2013, http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/politics/7071/was_islam_responsible_for_the_boston_bombings__or_was__ internet_islam___/