Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Boston Bombing and Blame: A Sense of Proportion

Lone Wolves
The bombings in Boston killed four people and injured hundreds of others, leaving some maimed for life. The surviving perpetrator has said that he and his brother committed this crime for the sake of Islam. It would be unfair for anyone to blame uninvolved Muslims for the actions of the Tsarnaev brothers.
Note the shift from the indicative mood to the subjunctive in the sentences above. Also, note that the first two sentences describe murdering people and ripping apart their bodies, and that the last sentence makes an observation about potential unfairness.  There is a big difference between a reality and a possibility, however likely that possibility may be in someone’s judgment. There is a huge gap between blowing people up and merely being prejudiced against them.
These distinctions are the reasons I find some of the responses to the bombings so astounding.  Before any suspects had emerged, David Sirota published an opinion piece entitled “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American,” by which he meant a native-born non-Muslim. Sirota is presumably disappointed now, but he may be looking forward to another vicious attack on innocent people, perpetrated by a criminal or criminals more to his preference.  The reason for his hope was that white males, enjoying “white privilege,” are not collectively denigrated,” while Muslims are.
Now, for another point of grammar: the passive voice. White criminals are identified as “lone wolves” by some cultural perspective that supposedly floats through the disembodied American mind. But all Muslims (or members of other supposedly “unprivileged” groups)  are held responsible for the act of any one in this cloud-like collective view. Now, as far as I know, investigators describe the Tsarnaev brothers as “lone wolves,”  and I haven’t seen any lynch mobs in the streets.  If I did see one, I’d hold those in the mob responsible, not some free floating culture of “white privilege.” But there probably are people in the United States who blame the religion of Islam or Muslims in general, just as there are people in North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia who see Americans in general as imperialistic evildoers. The latter appears to have been the perspective of the Tsarnaev brothers, and they would have had the political right to their prejudices if they had not chosen to express them through destroying innocent men, women , and children.
This bizarre focus on potential popular prejudices resulting from actual atrocity can be found elsewhere, as in The Chronicle of Higher Education article on fear of a backlash against Muslim students. Now, I certainly hope that this doesn’t happen. I don’t regard the nice people at the mosque near me as responsible for attacks on anyone. If others do, I deplore their prejudices. But let’s maintain a little sense of proportion.

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