It’s me again, the prodigal daughter with all the ‘radical’ feminist ideas and the sweary mouth.
We don’t always see eye to eye, in fact that seems to happen very rarely. I know there are lots of you on Facebook who roll your eyes every time my name comes across your News Feed, and maybe you even crack little jokes with your husbands or wives about the likelihood of my posts being ranty, feminist, liberal, pro-choice or all of the above. That’s OK.
I won’t pretend that I’m unpredictable and maybe this will just be another eye-roll inducing post. I have to ask you though, I am begging you in fact, to read this post… not because I’m anyone special, and not because I think I have it all figured out. Nothing like that. I’m asking you to do me this favor because I’m scared and because I literally don’t know what else to do.
The events that have unfolded in Boston over the last week have been tragic and increasingly surreal. Senseless violence swept one of our nation’s oldest cities and countless people have lost, in the best cases, their sense of security and in the worst cases, their health, their wellbeing and even their lives. As one horrific day has given way to another, the bad news seems to have compiled. Answers have been elusive, closure is still far from our grasp.
Being so far from the events, I can’t really fathom the fear the people of Boston have felt this week and continue to feel as they are locked in their homes today. I have spent these last several hours expressing gratitude to the universe that tragedy has not struck my loved ones and that I do not truly know the extent of the terror the citizens of Boston feel. My empathy is deep but it is limited by my distance, I know.
I say this because I want to be honest and clear about the nature of my fears. I have the luxury of reflecting on the situation in ways which may be more abstract, more ‘big picture’ than those who are still living in this nightmare. Nevertheless, I am choosing to make my plea not because I underestimate the continuing agony my countrymen and women in Boston feel, but because the way we as their countrymen and women–whether near or far–respond to these events will absolutely play a crucial role in the recovery of this city. The ways in which we choose to move forward, and the aspects of this tragedy upon which we choose to focus will make a difference in helping to heal Boston.
America, I am terrified that in our sadness, our anger, and our fear, we will let hate get the best of us. I am scared that the events in Boston will become a source for discrimination, unwarranted fear of ‘foreignness’ and further violence. As media reports continue to frantically proliferate rumors, misinformation, and half-checked facts, I become ever more anxious that shallow, hastily-constructed narratives of ‘vengeance’ will take center stage over the already multiple, true stories of heroism, bravery, kindness and humanity.
Please, please I beg you, whatever we learn in the coming days, consider tolerance before judgment, and compassion before hate. Why, you might be demanding of me, why should we be tolerant and compassionate when the Boston Marathon bombers had no regard for the lives of others? Because it is precisely this disregard and lack of respect for human life that separates those who engage in mass violence from those who don’t. Throughout human history there have been those individuals who have misanthropically chosen violence to achieve their ends; there have also been those who chose endurance, patience, empathy and tolerance. We don’t have to choose hatred. We don’t have to choose violence.
The Media is Full of Sh#t
I am asking you for your careful consideration as further light is shed on the circumstances surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing and the MIT shootings. There seems to be some degree of certainty about the suspects now, but if this past week has shown us anything, it is that major media sources and social media sites are unafraid to publish and proliferate information that boils down to nothing more than rumors.
A national newspaper posted photos and names of ‘confirmed suspects’ on two different occasions without any evidence for doing so other than the young men’s appearances and backpacks. In both cases, the men the New York Post identified as ‘terrorist suspects’ were students: one who had been injured and was running for his life–as were all other marathon attendees around him–and one, a minor, who as a track athlete himself, had attended the marathon in his track suit and with a backpack (a not uncommon accessory for students). These men were not, according to law enforcement officials, suspected of any wrong doing and yet the Post unabashedly reported their names and photos before any details of the investigation had been released by those qualified to do so.
Please be skeptical of what you read, we are still without so many answers and this event has already bred so much misinformation. And yes, if you construe this very post as ‘journalism’ and me as ‘a source’, then be skeptical of this too. If all I achieve is having my own post held in suspicion, I will not feel that this was a loss.
Generalizations are Poisonous
The limited information available that has been confirmed by the FBI and Boston law enforcement officials has linked two young men, of Chechnyan origin, to the Marathon bombings and shootings. They have also been linked geographically by various news sources to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Cambridge, Massachusetts.
First, and foremost, if you don’t know exactly where these places are on a map, I would hope that gives you at least a moment’s pause about making any generalizing statements about people from these places.
Second, and perhaps this sounds funny to some, but I am 100% serious, none of these places, not even the ones ending in ‘stan’, are in the Middle East. Why is this important? Because all too often, mentions of the words ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’ and most perniciously, ‘terrorist’ are automatically linked to Arabs and to the Middle East. There are many, many reasons why these associations are problematic to say the least, but in the simplest terms, making these types of associations in this context would be untrue and completely inaccurate if indeed two young men, who were born in Chechnya, turn out to be responsible for the violence in Boston.
Making any generalizations about these horrendous acts with respect to the young men’s religious inclinations would equally be inaccurate and would be tantamount to falsely accusing millions of people around the world. Islam is a world religion and just like Christianity or Judaism, it is practiced in countries all over the globe. Equally, the various ways Islam is practiced throughout the hundreds of communities in the world are so numerous that a muslim from Egypt may not recognize the practices of a muslim in America as representative of Islam. Chechnya’s ‘religious profile’ cannot even be summarized simply as ‘Islam’. Whilst the vast majority of Chechnyans are Sunni muslims, many are also Sufi. These are not the same and the differences are important.
Blaming the actions of these two young men on all of Islam or on all muslims would be no different than blaming the sexual abuses rife within parts of the Catholic Church on all Christians… everywhere!
Finally, to suggest that all Chechnyans are terrorists is to willfully and blindly ignore the diversity and uniqueness of human beings everywhere. The invisible lines drawn around countries, territories, and states do not infuse the people therein with a single, locatable essence. For many, many people I am ‘friends’ with on Facebook, I am the absolute antithesis to what they consider to be a ‘true’ American. If I were to volunteer myself within the UK as representative of all of America, I am certain that myriad people in TEXAS ALONE would stage a coup to remove my liberal, atheist, feminist, NHS-supporting ass from the (hypothetical imaginary) position. Narratives of individuality do not exist only in the USA.
Why do I care about all this? Because after 9/11 some Americans were so desperate to find ‘the bad guys’ that hundreds of innocent families, and many peaceful communities through out our country were subjected to undeserved vandalism and violence.
Boston does not deserve more violence, more turmoil and more pain. We cannot undo the bombings, or the shooting by engaging in more violent action.
The Pain from Within
What has happened in Boston is heart-wrenching and it is right that we should mourn. For many, these events will seem senseless and they will demand answers, they will want to know why. I am not a political analyst and I can’t convince anyone that the turmoil of Chechnya’s past is a key element in understanding these past few days. There are certainly those who can offer this type of analysis, but I’m afraid it’s not me.
What I can do is reflect on the harsh reality that as human beings, we bring violence on ourselves and on others in countless ways. This last year in the US has brought one tragedy after the next, and in cases like the Sandy Hook shootings, the stabbings at Lone Star College, or shootings in Aurora at The Dark Knight premier, we have had to try to come to terms with the terrors that lurk at home. Like any other country in the world, the US is full of all different types of people and some of them have brought pain, suffering and death to our communities.
We have also seen a regrettable year of teen deaths. We have only just begun to understand the ways in which social media and technology have further developed ‘bullying cultures’, and as a nation it seems we have had an even harder time recognizing and understanding how sexual violence intersects with online bullying. Tragically, these intersecting and overlapping attitudes have proved fatal for far, far too many young Americans.
This week, a fertilizer plant in Texas exploded and from what it seems, as a result of someone’s greed and gross negligence, 12 people have been killed, over 160 seriously injured and, countless residents have lost their homes.
My point in reminding us all of these terrible events is to illuminate the ways in which we bring terror to ourselves. No matter what way this week in Boston is characterized, we must resist the implications that violence and terror are things which are external to us. Yes, it may be that some of the things we suffer as a country come from groups or people outside our borders but equally as terrifying, and equally as tragic are the circumstances where our children die at the hands of our countrymen.
America as Melting Pot
My last, and final plea, is to resist any inclinations to direct our fear and our ire at those we deem ‘foreign’. I feel such an overwhelming anxiety that discussions will begin to materialize which argue that people who are ‘foreign’ to the US are dangerous. There is already an astounding display of xenophobia and racism on social media sites (as evidenced by sites like Public Shaming) where every despicable slur imaginable is employed to denigrate non-US citizens. These calls for racially- and nationally-motivated violence reveal deep-seated, ugly assumptions that Americans must be of a particular ethnicity, must be born in a particular place, and must practice a particular religion. ‘Foreign’, in the eyes of these terribly misguided individuals, equals enemy.
I cannot bear the thought of seeing this type of rancid, savage ideology spread further.
What’s more, I cannot think of anything more un-American. The maxims of America as a melting pot have been thoroughly critiqued and even dispelled as ‘pure myth’ by many a skeptical voice. But myths are powerful and they play a large part in the ways in which we understand ourselves and our nations. Maybe the melting pot myth has lost some gravity in the years since 9/11 but it cannot be cast off as irrelevant within the national narrative of the US.
How many people are absolutely brimming over with pride because of their Irish ancestry? How many foreign athletes and celebrities are celebrated within our national arenas? What would Americans EAT if not for foreign imports and influences?
These are trivial examples, sure, but they are real and present every day in the lives of all Americans. We are a country of immigrants and that status was something we took so seriously at one point in our history that we welcomed every new American with ‘The New Colossus’. The lady who dons these words is still standing in the waters of the New York Harbor.
Please join me in trying to avoid inflicting more violence and hatred onto the people of Boston and of our country. The stories which deserve to go viral are those of the heroes and the medical professionals who have saved countless lives. We must honor those who have lost their lives and embrace their loved ones. To be American must mean to be those that heal Boston.
I need to believe that writing this post was an unnecessary act. I need to believe that my country can choose construction over destruction, healing over hurt, tolerance over hatred, and peace over violence. Please help me to move on and to feel that the spirit of our nation as a diverse, determined, and truly democratic place survives.