I was on Mass Ave. and Boylston yesterday when the bombs exploded. You’ve heard more than enough to add the details of what it felt like to be there: panic, chaos, helping, screaming, running, falling, being helped up, mass confusion.
As I’ve been feeling the adrenaline pulse its half-life through my veins, I’ve been thinking steady on the need to grieve. How very important it is for us to stop and to share in moments of trauma and loss with each other. Many of us had the supreme luxury to do just that, and the grieving will continue. But I believe our collective need to grieve, to feel difficult feelings, may actually contain some answers to the questions roiling in our heads and bodies. The need to grieve and our lack of ability to grieve may have everything to do with the cycles of seemingly more frequent and deeper violence.
Muslims face prejudice, but Muslims from the Caucasus face a particular kind of prejudice – the kind born of ignorance so great it perversely imbues everything with significance. “There is never interpretation, understanding and knowledge when there is no interest,” Edward Said wrote in Covering Islam , and until this week, there was so little interest in and knowledge of the Caucasus that the ambassador of the Czech Republic felt compelled to issue a press release stating that the Czech Republic is not the same as Chechnya.
Knowing nothing of the Tsarnaevs’ motives, and little about Chechens, the American media tore into Wikipedia and came back with stereotypes. The Tsarnaevs were stripped of their 21st century American life and became symbols of a distant land, forever frozen in time. Journalist Eliza Shapiro proclaimed that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was “named after a brutal warlord”, despite the fact that Tamerlan, or Timur, is an ordinary first name in the Caucasus and Central Asia. Her claim is equivalent to saying a child named Nicholas must be named in honour of ruthless Russian tsar Nicholas I – an irony apparently lost on New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, who made a similar denouncement on Twitter (to his credit, Kristof quickly retracted the comment).
Other journalists found literary allusions, or rather, illusions. “They were playing the nihilists Arkady and Bazarov in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons ,” explained scholar Juan Cole, citing an 1862 Russian novel to explain the motives of a criminal whose Twitter account was full of American rap lyrics. One does not recall such use of literary devices to ascertain the motives of less exotic perpetrators, but who knows? Perhaps some ambitious analyst is plumbing the works of Faulkner to shed light on that Mississippi Elvis impersonator who tried to send ricin to Obama.
Still others turned to social media as a gateway to the Chechen soul. Journalist Julia Ioffe – after explaining the Tsarnaevs through Tolstoy, Pushkin, and, of course, Stalin - cites the younger Tsarnaev’s use of the Russian website VKontakte as proof of his inability to assimilate, then ranks the significance of his personal photos.
Boston Bruins Dennis Seidenberg observes a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings before the start of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts April 17, 2013. This is the first sporting event to be held in Boston after the explosions that killed three and injured more than one hundred at the Boston Marathon. Image via Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi/Landov
The bomb blasts at the Boston Marathon are a terrible tragedy and a chilling example of the worst kinds of misanthropic human behavior. I weep for the families and friends for those immediately affected and for those whose lives and memories have forever changed.
I hope that they catch the perpetrator(s) of this crime.
But I worry, especially after inciteful and potentially dangerous rumors, momentarily validated by the NY Post, that automatically point the finger at (an) international terrorist(s), who, is/are in the imaginations of those easily deluded, brown-skinned. The subsequent and unavoidable racial profiling is a slippery slope toward a lynching mentality where color/ethnicity/race (all imagined categories largely invented for economic exploitation and advantage) is proof of guilt, and where all who are imagined to be part of that imagined category are inescapably complicit.
On Tuesday, our own Special Correspondent and founder of Muslimah Media Watch Fatemeh Fakhraie joined a panel on Al Jazeera’s The Stream to discuss Ukranian protest group FEMEN and “Topless Jihad Day.” The panel also features:
Let’s review: Any honest observer should be able to admit that if the gunmen in these mass shootings mostly had, say, Muslim names or were mostly, say, African-American men, the country right now wouldn’t be confused about the causes of the violence, and wouldn’t be asking broad questions. There would probably be few queries or calls for reflection, and mostly definitive declarations blaming the bloodshed squarely on Islamic fundamentalism or black nationalism, respectively. Additionally, we would almost certainly hear demands that the government intensify the extantprofiling systems already aimed at those groups.
Yet, because the the perpetrators in question in these shootings are white men and not ethnic or religious minorities, nobody is talking about demographic profiling them as a group. The discussion, instead, revolves around everything from gun control, to mental health services, to violence in entertainment — everything, that is, except trying to understanding why the composite of these killers is so similar across so many different massacres. This, even though there areplenty of reasons for that topic to be at least a part of the conversation.
Recounting the truth of these double standards is, of course, boringly mundane, which means my comment on television summarizing them is an equally boring and mundane statement of the obvious. However, as evidenced by the aggressive attempt to turn those comments into controversial headline-grabbing news over the weekend, the conservative movement has exposed its desperation — specifically, its desperation to preserve its White Victimization Mythology.
–From “Time to profile white men?” by David Sirota, Salon
I wasn’t going to originally post anything on Zwarte Piet but, after seeing discourse after discourse on the holiday of Sinterklaas, I decided to write about it. Ah, where to begin.
I celebrated Sinterklaas as a child. Since my parents were from the Dutch Caribbean, we would go every December 5th to the Dutch consulate in New York City and eagerly sit with the other children (we were usually the only children of color) while Sinterklaas handed out our presents. And, of course, to accompany Sinterklaas, this saintly white man who represented a bishop, were his ‘helpers’ or Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes). These would usually be men, or women, dressed up in blackface with an Afro wig and bright red lipstick. The legend goes that if you’re bad, Zwarte Piet will take you in his burlap sack to Spain. So naturally I was mortified of Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) as a child. You mean to tell me that this dude who dresses flamboyantly and has this jet black makeup on his face is going to collect me and ship me off to Spain with him? OH HELL NO!!
As I grew up and learned about Golliwogs and minstrel shows, I started to notice a pattern. This beloved holiday that I celebrated as part of my ‘heritage’ seemed to overlap a lot with blackface in America. The similarities are undeniable.