As high-spirited Americans and the Boston Marathon crowds were blindsided by surreal pressure cooker bombs, and even as we reel from the senseless deaths and the plight of heroic runners-turned-victims, the key questions are: Why do these tragedies keep recurring and what, if anything, can we -- the people and the U.S. government -- do about it?
Let's start with the strange thing: two young Chechens and the Boston Marathon. What's the connection? It's not immigration, whatever some in Congress are trying to say, and it's not Islam. It's being from an occupied country.
Since 1980, Robert Pape, the preeminent researcher on this kind of terrorism from the University of Chicago, has tracked the motivations and patterns of Tamil, Chechen and Middle Eastern suicide bombers puts his finger on the pulse of this issue. Pape is clear: "The problem is not Islam but lengthy military occupations." Russia has occupied Chechnya for more than 100 years, and in the 1930s, Stalin expelled the entire Chechen people to Central Asia for three decades. Osama bin Laden's tipping point against the U.S. was American military bases in Saudi Arabia. Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria is an appalling, violent group -- but they only turned against foreigners when French troops arrived in their region.
Pape's solution is also crystal clear: decrease suicide bombings not by focusing on Islamic extremism but by terminating foreign occupation fast. "Invasions and occupations, new democratic governments backed by the military as in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan" are the U.S.'s preferred course of action he argues, despite strong evidence that " suicide terrorism is not prompted by Islamic fundamentalism" and points out that "despite some military success, suicide terrorism has continued."
Well, there is not much Americans can do about the Russian occupation of Chechnya -- just as Spaniards who suffered from suicide attacks had little control over America's policies in Iraq. But Americans as a whole can learn the lesson: Military occupations are not an effective response to the growth of fundamentalist violence -- they weren't for India in Sri Lanka and they haven't been for the U.S. in Afghanistan.
But Muslims have a particular message to learn: to have the courage of their true faith. Asra Nomani, author of "Standing Alone in Mecca" and a former Wall Street Journal reporter, blogs about the Boston marathon tragedy:
Enough, enough, enough, I say, with the CYA--Cover Your A**--strategy in our Muslim communities. I would like our community to take responsibility for how it is that we--yes, we--have allowed an interpretation of Islam to prevail in this world that turns this boy of innocence into a bomber and murderer.
Nomani is right on! I too wonder how we Muslim moderates stand by in good conscience on the sidelines of life at this critical juncture in America and fail to defend the straight path of Islam which has guided us for centuries.
And why did these two young men from Chechnya go so astray in America? Not by going to the mosque; they actually rejected what they were taught there. While Rep. Peter King of New York believes that mosques are often the wellspring of radicalism in the U.S., calling for increased "surveillance of Islamic communities" because, "The new threat is from within." Contrast this with Suhaib Webb and Scott Korb, whose research indicates that young people with a strong grounding in the American Muslim mainstream in fact do not get radicalized. Radicalization happens, they say, online and sometimes abroad, among the isolated and disaffected. Tamerlane Tsarnaev's YouTube page does not highlight any scholars, imams or institutions, and at a Friday service when the imam praised Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, he shouted that the imam was a "nonbeliever."
The New York Times this week reported that in Chechnya itself the battle is between the imams in the mosques, who practice moderate Sufi Islam, and imported extreme Salafists who have obtained a foothold because of the Russian occupation.
Webb and Korb point out that the American Muslim devotional or educational institutions focused on the arts, community service and interfaith activities have a mediating influence. They take to heart Islam's mandate to show mercy, just as Judaism embraces law and Christianity promotes love.
And finally, I would say that the Boston bombing was a huge tragedy, but there could be a silver lining if we Muslims, immigrants and native borne alike, understand that Islam is a simple faith, with a few key edicts, and a porous potential to absorb new memes and contour itself in the best of ways to the culture in which it resides. In America, Islam is a frontier faith -- open to new norms which enable it to make a positive contribution to the country in which it resides. It is up to us Muslims to make that happen, as Asra Nomani so articulately suggested in her blog "How American Muslims can respond to Boston," even as we reclaim true, tolerant and progressive Islam in the United States of America.
Khadijah's daughters is a blog by Shahnaz Chinoy Taplin, board president of Invest in Muslim Women, a non-profit project of the Global Fund for Women. Invest in Muslim Women focuses on the economic empowerment of Muslim women, justice and peace. The blog is inspired by Khadijah, Prophet Muhammad's first wife and the quintessential role model for Muslim women. She was the first convert to Islam, the first Muslim woman entrepreneur, a globalist and a feminist.