THE BLOG

Reflections One Month After the Boston Marathon Bombing

05/20/2013 11:47 am ET | Updated Jul 20, 2013
  • Chip Berlet Researcher and author covering civil rights and civil liberties

A month after the Boston Marathon Bombing, the unified response here in the Boston area is the slogan "Boston Strong," which I see on handmade signs and professional banners hanging on walls and highway overpasses.

In the hours following the bombing, the corporate media engaged in outlandish rumor-mongering, some claiming the perpetrators were domestic right-wing militants.

Talking heads free-associated jingoistic gibberish with their "experts."

When CNN wrongly identified pressure cooker bombs as a "signature of rightwing individuals, " rightwingers rebelled.

When the suspects' photos were released, the mass media discussed how they "looked white." When they were identified as Muslim immigrants, institutionalized and organized white racism swirled in a toxic stream through digital channels. Islamophobic websites were perplexed there were Muslims who looked "white."

The Tsarnaev family's ethnic background is from the Caucasus Mountains. Chechnya is in the north with Iran and Afghanistan in the South. They are literally Caucasians.

The news magazine digest This Week featured a colorful cover featuring the Tsarnaev brothers modified by the artist so that they looked more menacing, with stereotyped "Muslim" features, and darker skin.

Some of us who study domestic rightwing groups have been tallying the number of attacks and deaths linked to Muslims compared to our domestic racists.

Terror and deaths caused by non-Muslim perpetrators in the U.S. eclipses that by Muslims 10-1. The attacks escalated after 9/11 and the election of President Barack Obama as did Islamophobic attacks.

Politicians, government functionaries, and rightwing Islamophobes have decided the problem is not enough government surveillance and information sharing. This ignores the fact that pre-blast reports on the Tsarnaevs were available (but buried) in the mountain of digital surveillance garbage overwhelming the local Massachusetts Fusion Center.

In New Jersey, a white man was arrested for carrying explosives on a train a week before the Boston bombing. The news barely caused a media ripple.

The corporate media largely explained the dynamics of terrorism using outdated social science about psychological dysfunction, or by claiming Islam was a religion of terrorism.

Mostly ignored were studies showing many young terrorists emerge from alienation by rebuilding shattered identities to become heroes avenging the humiliation of a nation, culture, or religion.

Only a tiny fraction of Muslims become terrorists. They don't hate our freedoms. They hate our soldiers. They hate invaders. Russian brutality in Chechnya blew back to Boston via U.S. wars in the Middle East.

How we remember and treat our adversaries and enemies tells a lot about us as a nation.

In Burlington, Massachusetts, where we live, I slip donations into jars on checkout counters for MIT security officer Sean Collier, a 2004 graduate of Wilmington high school. Our towns share a common border and the historic Ipswich River, as well as a sports tradition as football rivals.

Last week I took my friend Andrew Bashi on an alternative tour of the Revolutionary War's opening battle at Lexington, the town that borders Burlington on the west. During the drive I learned of Andrew's heritage tracing back to Iraq and the Chaldean religious community, one of the oldest Christian civilizations in history. Raised in Detroit, he always has people wondering if he is Muslim

Prior to visiting Concord's North Bridge, Andrew and I attended a fundraising event a few blocks from the Boston blast site. It was for the Defending Dissent Foundation, with which we both volunteer. We met in the hearth of colonial liberty at a time of increasing government spying, use of informers, entrapment of Muslims, and targeting of animal rights and other progressive activists.

Andrew snapped a picture of the gravesite of the British soldiers killed in the battle at Concord. Back then we buried enemy dead as was the civilized practice of the day.

At that same moment, outraged demonstrators were demanding the corpse of Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarneav not be buried in Massachusetts. Tamerlan's body was spirited to Virginia. The burial in a private Muslim cemetery was not secret for long. The anti-Islam Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force began a campaign to dig up Tamerlan's corpse and banish it from the state. The group's chairman told the Associated Press that Tamerlan's burial was "an awful sneak attack on the people of Virginia," and predicted the grave would become a shrine attracting Islamic Jihadists.

Viewing the mass grave Andrew and I were both ashamed to be citizens of a country in which the requisite qualifications for being called civilized are slowly, relentlessly, being abraded away by militarism, repression, and bigotry.

A poem is carved into headstone at North Bridge where the corpses of British soldiers were buried on April 19, 1775, by those who fought for our nation's liberty from oppression. The first two lines are:

"They came three thousand miles and died

To keep the past upon its throne."

= = =