In the immediate aftermath of the horrendous Boston Marathon bombing the Islamic Council of New England issued a statement that may be paraphrased as: ‘Regardless of our ethnic, racial or religious backgrounds, political affiliations, or socio-economic status, we as Americans are all shocked, saddened and outraged by the savage Boston Marathon bombing, unconditionally condemn such a heinous crime, and extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims who had lost their most precious.’
On the first anniversary of that infamous day, the question is raised, “How does it FEEL to be a Muslim living in a climate of collective guilt in the post-Sept. 11, post-Marathon era?” The answer is that Muslims experience a spectrum of emotions ranging from one of a deep unease due to the gross misperception of their religion by the public at large, merging into an indescribable anguish that their religion could be so unrecognizably dismembered by individuals who claim allegiance to what is so dear to their hearts. They feel deeply outraged that heretics with their own ignominious agenda could demonize their religion for their own ends. They are equally angry that some in the media would rush to judgment to impugn all of Islam for the action of a few and are incredulous that in the name of free speech Islamophobes are allowed a completely free hand in slandering Islam with total impunity. The most blatant double standards are depicted when acts of terror are committed by non-Muslims as opposed to Muslims. Thus when the likes of Wade Page, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza, James Holmes, and Anders Breivik commit acts of unspeakable terror, their atrocities are referred to euphemistically as those of “deeply disturbed persons,” or those of a lone wolf with no attempt to link their unholy behavior to their religious affiliations. It is an affront to the memory of those who lost loved ones at the hands of such monsters that their pain is any less because it was not brought on by “Islamist terrorists.”
Muslims are also deeply offended by, but too intimidated to articulate that they find the tactics of some law enforcers, such as blanket surveillance, the use of informants, the practice of entrapment, and the indignity of employing known Islamophobes to ‘educate’ their law enforcement agencies about Islam, to be totally un-American and unjust. Perhaps the clearest expression of how Muslims actually FEEL to be living in this climate of post-9/11, post-Marathon collective guilt is their deep personal angst. Nothing can convey this deep horror that has been so indelibly imprinted on the Muslim psyche than the innermost fear in the heart of a Muslim when he hears of an act of ‘terror’ and he says to himself,’ Please God let not this be an act of a Muslim’. It is as though if the heinous crime against humanity were perpetrated by a non-Muslim it would somehow find a mitigating circumstance.
In making an honest appraisal of how Muslims, as American citizens, actually FEEL they in no ways mean to usurp the license to overplay the victimhood card. The real victims perished on Marathon Day. Many of those who barely survived suffer the scars of the unbearable trauma with remarkable stoicism, and then there are their loved ones who continue to endure the interminable pain of their irreplaceable losses. May God grant eternal peace to all who lost their lives for the benefit of none. May He continue to grant succor to those whose grief can never find closure even if the terrorist is executed. In contrast, the anxiety the Muslims experience, the suspicion they feel that their presence might arouse, and the surveillance they are subjected to are relatively insignificant when viewed within the big picture of the safety and security of all our citizens, who include the Muslims themselves as equal opportunity targets of the mindless terrorists.
In vocalizing their concerns to an openly receptive public, Muslims would be remiss if they did not express their appreciation to all those who reacted so promptly and selflessly to rescue the traumatized. They would fail abysmally if they did not extend their gratitude to their friends in the Interfaith community who, fearing a backlash against the Muslim community, immediately rallied to our call for a major Interfaith Assembly that would demonstrate our unconditional solidarity. Their spontaneous and rapid response culminated in the President himself coming to address a capacity filled audience at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. Such an event helped to generate the overwhelming level of understanding and tolerance within the society at large, and aborted any backlash. And finally, we must also thank the multiple Law Enforcement Agencies in Boston for a smooth working relation that has helped greatly to establish a productive two way communication system with the Muslim community. Hopefully the Boston model can be replicated nation-wide.
To place the problem of terrorism into a context that we might be able to live with, the sagacious remarks of Ted Koppel may be of help to us all, ‘Will terrorists kill innocent civilians in the years to come? Of course! They did so more than 100 years ago, when they were called anarchists –and a responsible nation state must take reasonable measures to protect its citizens. But there is no way to completely eliminate terrorism. The challenge that confronts us is how we will live with that threat. We have created an economy of fear, an industry of fear, a national psychology of fear. Al Qaeda could never have achieved that on its own. Over the coming years many more Americans will die in car crashes, of gunshot wounds inflicted by family members, and by falling off ladders than from any attack from Al Qaeda.’ Whether Mr. Koppel is right or wrong only time will tell. Till then it behooves us all who celebrate our common humanity to work together to be ever-vigilant to the threat of any form of mayhem, even as we work together to promote peace and harmony that can only come from the mutual respect that Pope Francis I so eloquently articulated(3).
Abdul Cader Asmal, Co-chair of Communications and Hussein Dayib, president, The Islamic Council of New England
Abdul Cader Asmal is a 33-year Needham resident.