Bob Franken: Anti-Muslim bigotry after Boston
It was a common thought among people of good will: Please, please don’t let those responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings be Muslims. Unfortunately, it seems that those who carried out the savage attacks were Muslims, giving the people of ill will a chance to renew the intolerant attacks of their own.
Allen West, that purveyor of malignant demagoguery who was mercifully turned out of Congress by the voters, is trying to revive his career on a platform of extremism. Boston gave him another opportunity: “Let me be very clear,” he wrote on Facebook. “The terrorist attack in Boston and evolving events indicate we have a domestic radical Islamic terror problem in America.”
Erik Rush, another hatemonger, claimed he was joking when he tweeted: “Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all.”
Before we dismiss these rants as voices from the fringe, let’s examine the mainstream views of our nation at large. A Gallup Poll taken in 2010 showed that 43 percent of the respondents acknowledged they felt some prejudice against Muslims. And that result includes only those who were willing to acknowledge their feelings. Of course it doesn’t help when media report false information about Saudi suspects or people who are “brown-skinned.”
It doesn’t matter whether this Boston attack was motivated by Islamic jihadism. Fanaticism exists in just about every movement in our country, religious and otherwise, but we wouldn’t think of holding such sweeping bias against all those who passionately oppose abortion or favor gun rights, would we? As for Muslims, estimates range from 2 million to 7 million, almost all proud Americans in spite of the reality that they are viewed with suspicion by so many.
The fact that the brothers allegedly responsible for the Boston abomination might have had a twisted religious motivation has Islamic leaders worried about a backlash, and rightfully so. Already we’re getting reports of people accosting anyone who might look the part and verbally abusing them as they demand to know “Are you Arab?” Never mind that the two brothers linked to the horror in Boston were ethnic Chechens, not Arabs at all, but that doesn’t stop the stupid bigot from acting like a dangerous idiot. Nobody should have to suffer that treatment, Arab or not.
Much has been made about the kindness the people of Boston showed to those who needed assistance after the attack. It is cited as an example of our country’s inherent generosity. What’s so puzzling is that it can coexist with such nastiness. Perhaps we need to tap into our noble spirit and stand up for those who are routinely vilified for their beliefs.
We pride ourselves on the underlying diversity of the United States. By definition, we’re supposed to be inclusive, which is the opposite of ostracizing individuals and groups just because of the way they look, or live, or worship. We claim to celebrate differences, but those polls show that instead we sometimes harshly deride them. It’s fair to say that such disparagement or worse is downright un-American.
All the anger we feel is far more appropriately turned on the politicians and commentators who make narrow-mindedness a part of their repertoire. Instead of rewarding them, we need to shun them, to stand up to their slurs or, even better, to ignore them. They are not worthy of our attention. As participants in public debates, they are worthless and need to be dismissed.
We all saw the news conference held outside the Maryland home of the uncle of the Tsarnaev brothers. When asked to describe what drove them to such heinous acts, he answered, “Being losers.” He went on to say he loves the U.S. because of the chance for everyone “to be treated as a human being.” Sadly, all too many times, because of ignorance or rabble-rousing, don’t all meet that ideal. Those who do not are the real losers.
Bob Franken is a former CNN correspondent. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.