Seattle, April 17 - Those who follow my work know that one purpose of my writing and public speaking is to emphasize the humanity of Muslims and Muslim societies to Western readers and students, especially other Americans. Another, related purpose is to counter the post-9/11 American tendency to scapegoat Muslims as a category whenever we're attacked or feel threatened. I believe that tendency is both unfair and unworthy of our own dignity as Americans and, more fundamentally, as human beings.
It's also unhelpful to all of us, because issues between Americans and Muslims are not a matter of "us" versus "them": millions of Americans are also Muslims, and vice versa. We're all in it together, whether we like it or not.
I don't have anything new to say in the context of the Boston bombing. That's why this statement is short. But each new incident represents both a need and a fresh opportunity to say the same things over again: We're all in it together; there is no "us" versus "them"; Muslims and Americans are not each other's enemies; the fact that terrorism is wrong does not excuse bigotry. All of these things will remain true even, and especially, if the perpetrators of the Boston bombing turn out to be Muslims.
My concern with and interest in the Muslim world is a function partly of the times we live in, but it also has a particular origin in my friendship with Pakistanis, and with Pakistan as a society, which dates back at this point almost 20 years. On March 23, in a speech to the Pakistan Association of America in Troy, Michigan, I said:
The Daily Telegraph's reviewer of my book Alive and Well in Pakistan understood my real purpose -- perhaps even better than I did at the time -- when he observed that "The author's real journey is a search for common humanity." I'm still on that journey, still on that search. And I'm glad to report that I have been finding the common humanity that I went looking for.
As God says in the Quran: "I made you nations and tribes, that you might know one another." Common humanity is not always a lovely thing to find, when we do find it. But finding it in each other is the first step in remembering that terrorism, danger, evil and other bad things are not unique to any particular human category.
One last thing -- but an important one -- to keep in mind is that ordinary people in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Muslim world are much closer to the physical, political and other dangers inflicted by terrorism than most of us in the U.S. will ever be. Bomb blasts are an ugly but common fact of life -- not quite routine, but far from exotic or unusual -- in South Asia, and they have been since long before 9/11. April 19 will be the 18th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. In Delhi a few days after that incident, a Kashmiri friend exclaimed to me: "There was bomb blast in America!" What surprised him was not that there had been a bomb blast, but that there had been a bomb blast in America, of all places.
We should keep in mind two things about Oklahoma City, which took place more than six years before 9/11: That it was widely assumed at first that the bomber must have been a Muslim, and that Timothy McVeigh turned out to be a white American. Terrorism is not Islamic.
Here are links to a few of the things I've written in the wake of similar incidents in the recent past:
- "Newtown Is a Village in Pakistan," Dec. 18, 2012 on my website and on Huffington Post
- "The Wisconsin Sikh Killings and an America Worth Fighting For," Aug. 6, 2012 on my website and on Huffington Post
- "The Colorado Killer Is Not a Muslim," July 20, 2012 on my website and on Huffington Post
- "Muslims in America: Time for a Movement?", Oct. 24, 2010
- "Some of My Best Friends Are Pakistanis," May 4, 2010, the day of the Times Square bombing
ETHAN CASEY is the author of Alive and Well in Pakistan: A Human Journey in a Dangerous Time (2004), called "intelligent and compelling" by Mohsin Hamid and "wonderful" by Edwidge Danticat. He is also the author of Overtaken By Events: A Pakistan Road Trip (2010) and Bearing the Bruise: A Life Graced by Haiti (2012) . His next book, Home Free: An American Road Trip, will be published in fall 2013 and is available for pre-purchase. Web: www.ethancasey.com. Facebook: www.facebook.com/ethancasey.author. Join his email list here.