Treating Muslims as pariahs
BY RUMMANA HUSSAIN email@example.com May 17, 2013 7:34PM
Bombing Suspect #2 In Custody
Updated: June 20, 2013 6:41AM
On my birthday 18 years ago, a man I admired endorsed pounding missiles over a certain group of people solely based on his misguided rage and suspicion.
“I would have no objection if we picked out a country that is a likely suspect . . .,” Mike Royko wrote in an April 21, 1995, column, green-lighting the bombing of overseas Muslims in retaliation for the Oklahoma City bombing. “If it happens to be the wrong country, well, too bad, but it’s likely it did something to deserve it anyway.”
When authorities identified Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols as those responsible for the carnage at the Murrah Federal Building — and not the Middle-Eastern-looking men reportedly glimpsed fleeing from the scene — the passionate, patriotic cries of vengeance were swallowed by the mass confusion and shock over the bland “Americanness” of the culprits.
No one, if I can recall correctly, cheered “USA, USA” when McVeigh and Nichols were arrested, as they did after brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — an American citizen — were apprehended after the heinous Boston Marathon attack last month.
I’d like to think some of my fellow citizens have risen above limiting their definition of an American to the faces they see in the mirror and the folly of relegating all Muslims, here or abroad, as the enemy. But I’m afraid a post-9/11 world has given the bigots carte blanche in spreading verbal bile that’s just as poisonous as the rhetoric on the YouTube videos that authorities said pushed the Tsarnaev brothers to murder and maim.
Like a broken record, even before the FBI released images of the Tsarnaevs or described them as having ties to Islam or Chechnya, a Saudi national running from the chaos was erroneously labeled as a suspect.
(A missing Brown University student of South Asian descent who turned up dead also was misidentified as a bomber on social media.)
“Muslims” began trending on Twitter.
“Yes, they’re evil,” Fox News contributor Erik Rush Tweeted of Muslims, a proclamation he later brushed off as sarcasm. “Let’s kill them all.”
Just three weeks ago, a county commissioner in Tennessee posted on his Facebook page a picture of a squinting man with a double-barrel shotgun, with the caption “How to wink at a Muslim.”
I don’t want to equate the pain and struggle of having a leg amputated or a loved one killed as the result of hate-fueled violence to the anguish many law-abiding American Muslims feel when fingers are pointed at them for something they didn’t do.
But when some people insist on treating you as a pariah in the very country you call home, the sadness is debilitating.
How are these leaders and pundits’ “jokes” calling for the annihilation of Muslims any different from a fiery cleric urging the slaughter of American civilians (including Muslims) as payback for the innocent lives lost in countless U.S. drone attacks and in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars?
Some have the gall to say that the threat of Islamophobia is exaggerated. They must not know too many Muslims or anyone who has had the misfortune of being mistaken for one. Ask the president.
Yes, many Muslims pray five times a day, go to the mosque and often use Arabic phrases, just as the Tsarnaevs reportedly did as part of their faith-based transformation. But these actions in themselves are not red flags, nor do they scratch the surface of whatever it was that pushed the brothers toward radicalization. I don’t doubt that religious extremism, coupled with a distaste for U.S. foreign policy, played a part in the siblings’ alleged actions. But alienation and thwarted dreams also surely factored in.
I suppose no matter how many times the vast majority of Muslims condemn terrorism, they will in some minds remain guilty by mere association. And no matter that Muslim lives have been lost, as well, in terror plots worldwide, including 9/11.
I may be like the Tsarnaevs in that I have felt marginalized and, yes, I do sympathize with the countless innocent foreign victims who have been killed and brushed off as collateral damage in the “War on Terror.”
But the similarities end there.
My heart goes out to those who were maimed or perished in April’s Boston massacre.
Krystle Campbell could have been my friend cheering me on in a race, albeit a less ambitious 5K.
Sean Collier reminded me of the jovial rookie cops I encountered during my first job as a police reporter at City News Bureau.
Lu Lingzi was no different from my young immigrant parents, so full of hope and promise when they first set foot in their adopted homeland.
And in the big brown eyes of 8-year-old Martin Richard, I can’t help but think of my nephews.
From what investigators have said, the suspected bombers viewed the world as black and white, embracing an ideology that allowed them to empathize only with people and groups just like them and dehumanize all others.
Us. And. Them.
There are a lot more people in this country who think along the same lines these days.
They just aren’t Muslim.
Rummana Hussain is the criminal courts reporter and a metro editor at the Sun-Times.