The first of the many tweets in reaction to the twin bombings at the Boston marathon yesterday:
“Oh God, please, let it not be a Muslim”.
“Please don’t be Arabs or Muslims”.
The blasts, now classified as “terrorist act” drew widespread condemnation, outrage and grief. Like any person with a soul, my heart went out to the victims, and I looked for an answer to the question everyone asked: Why?
But there was more than this “Why”. Initial media coverage also created fear. And offence, when reports of US authorities searching for a Black man, in black sweatshirt with an accent surfaced.
Some quickly jumped to label this person, a “suspect”, who turned out to be a Saudi Arabian man who was initially questioned by investigators. Later, the law enforcement officials said the person was not considered a suspect. According to a CBS report:
“It appears that he was a spectator who was injured in the attack, reports CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton.”
This tweet by @chrisrockoz sums it up:
Even a terror attack cannot justify acts of racism and xenophobia.
I am not trying to undermine the pain of the victims of this tragedy. I do not condone violence. But, I also do not condone creation of an “Other” and inventing a fear of this “Other”. Academic scholars like Yasmin Jiwani have argued that negative stereotypical representation of a minority group, a race, or a culture leads to the construction of this “Other” whose culture is pre-modern. (Discourses of Denial: Mediations of Race, Gender, and Violence) This “Other”, whose culture is pre-modern, is constructed as barbaric, threatening, and deviant.
She explains that in capitalist institutions, the media are owned by Western conglomerates that have specific influence on the nature of stories, and images about “Others” that are circulated at a local and a global level.
So, to my friend, Sunny Freeman, who initially asked this question on my Twitter feed:
When this “Other” and the fear from this “Other” is created, all it does is reinforce the power imbalance between the dominant, which is White and the “Other”, which in this case, was Black/Arab/Muslim. This is all that is accomplished.
In our further tweet exchange, Sunny asked if we had learned anything from Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma City bombing was a terrorist bomb attack in downtown Oklahoma on April 19, 1995. Initial news stories were quick to wrongly suggest Islamic terrorists were behind the attack. As a result, Muslims and people of Arab descent were attacked. Later, when the suggestions turned out to be incorrect and the suspect turned out to be a White man, the racial framework was quickly and conveniently dropped.
“Why release any info when so little is known,” said Sunny.
She has a point, a valid one. As, (borrowing from her) it can do more harm than good.
The initial rush by media and the law enforcement officials causes harm to people based purely on race, ethnicity and linguistics, something that has nothing to do with acts of terror. Terrorism has no face, no race, no culture, no religion, and no accent. It is neither Black nor White; it is pure evil.