It’s certainly hard to believe, but it has only been a week since the horrific Boston Marathon bombing that took place on Monday, April 15. Maybe that’s because the story has been covered so exhaustively by everyone from surprisingly accurate random Twitter users to disturbingly inaccurate media conglomerates. Of the many story lines that emerged from this senseless tragedy – the suspects’ brazen attempted escape, the resiliency of the city of Boston, the heroism of the first-responders – the storytellers themselves also became part of the spotlight.
But among those many story lines was also the fascination with the suspects’ background and heritage. Namely, as this Fox News headline so poignantly opines, the fact that both suspects were Muslim extremists. This fact, once it became widely known, added yet another element of extreme interest for the 24-hour news cycle to dive into.
Immediately, articles began exploring the suspects’ heritage as immigrants from the separatist Chechnya region of Russia, their association with other Islamic extremists, and even their potential connections to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But more notably, several articles written after the suspects’ identities had been revealed took into account the thoughts and opinions of the ‘Muslim community’.
The articles on the ‘Muslim community’ generally recounted statements from prominent Muslim community leaders, in Boston and across the United States, decrying the terrorist attacks. Several articles also noted that members of the Muslim community were dismayed by the fact that the Boston bombers, who had just perpetrated the largest act of terror on American soil since 9/11, were Islamic extremists like the plane-bombers of 9/11.
On Monday afternoon, as word spread that two bombs had been detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, Imam Ibrahim Rahim found himself alone at Yusuf Mosque on Boston’s Chesnut Hill Avenue.
First he offered a prayer for the victims. And then he quietly added: “Dear Lord, God, please whatever this yields, let it not be something that can in anyway be associated with Islam.”
In New York, at the same time, Daisy Khan, director of the American Society of Muslim Advancement, had a similar thought, reduced to less than 140 characters: “#ihopeitsnotamuslim.”
There’s no denying the rationale behind this sentiment from members of the Muslim community, particularly given the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment and hate crimes in the wake of 9/11. The fact that Boston’s Muslim community also faced hate crimes in the immediate aftermath of the bombing serves to underline just how outward this anti-Muslim sentiment can be.
But does the ‘Muslim community’ really have to answer for the actions of terrorists who act under an entirely distorted, unrecognizable, and distant branch of their religion? As Boston Imam Muhajid Ramos points out, the practices of fundamentalist Islam violate some of the most basic tenets of real Islam. The fundamentalists are following an entirely different class of religion. So why do we insist on calling for a response from the ‘Muslim community’ whenever Islamic fundamentalists are found in the news? And why do we insist on bucketing all American Muslims into one ‘community’? Are they not as diverse as members of other religions in America?
The notion of bucketing and homogenizing a diverse group of people is a key issue within the context of issues involving space and race. While these issues typically deal with the geographic bucketing of racial groups into neighborhoods or areas, the Muslim community features a different type of categorization. Instead of being isolated into a specific region, the Muslim ideology has been relegated to a very specific portion of the American cultural mindshare – one that is associated primarily with insurgency, violence, and terrorism.
And, while we would like to think that our nation’s sensitivity to acts of terror is to blame for our crude approximation of a religion that encompasses well over a billion people, there is substantial evidence that Muslim identity in America is being hand-crafted with a particular spin in mind.
It appears, once again, that the storytellers have become part of the storyline.
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