Saturday, 20 April 2013

Boston bombers leave US at prayer

Dzhokar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev's evil attack on the Boston Marathon has damaged the reputation of innocent Muslims. 

Dzhokar Tsarnaev, suspected Boston Marathon bomber

For a country whose fastest growing religion is 'no religion', a curious - though not entirely surprising - word has been trending all week on Twitter: pray.

In many ways, prayer unified otherwise disassociated Americans. On various social media outlets, at sporting events, on the floor of the Senate, and at interfaith vigils throughout the country, Americans were asked to pray for Boston.

Yet, in other ways, prayer was also an 'othering' force. Muslims prayed that the terrorists would be someone other than their own. You could almost hear the collective groan of disappointment from the American Muslim community as the words 'Boston Marathon suspects are Muslims' flashed on TV screens. The most damning evidence against 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev's character was that 'he recently began praying five times a day'. Prayer divided the life of Tamerlan between an otherwise normal 'weed-smoking' American existence and the life of a 'radicalised Muslim terrorist'.

Of course, fingers were pointed at Muslims long before Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were identified as suspects. During the chaos that ensued in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, a 20 year old Saudi student - who was badly burned due to the bomb - was tackled by people 'who thought he looked suspicious'. Another innocent 17 year old high school student of Moroccan nationality said he was afraid to leave his home after the New York Post irresponsibly plastered his image on their front page, blaming him for the bombings. Perhaps the worst response was by TV commentator Erik Rush who tweeted: "Muslims are evil. Kill them all".

So as I put on my headscarf on Friday before heading out to run an errand, I couldn't help but reconsider whether I should go out. Rush's words kept echoing in my mind. Perhaps it was an irrational fear, but the Council on American Islamic Relations reports that several hate crimes against American Muslims have already been carried out, including the cruel beating of a Bangladeshi man and the assault of a hijab-wearing Muslim woman who was pushing a baby stroller. If women with children are not off-limits, who is safe?

Since the suspects were officially labelled Muslim, countless press releases and articles by American Muslim groups have denounced the two brothers in an attempt to distance them from the larger American Muslim community. Interestingly, a decidedly different response has come from sections of the Christian community. Of all people, prayers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev have poured in since his arrest. Reverand Manny Alvarez, a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami, tweeted: "we must pray for this 19 year old too because we’re Catholic". Another Catholic news website tweeted: "We also need to remember to pray for the suspect...He is also a child of God, after all".

It is unlikely that a similarly compassionate response will come from any Muslim American. And it's not because of Muslim theology; Islamic tradition recommends praying for one's enemies. But for a Muslim in this political climate to say they are praying for this particular enemy would be the death knell of relations with the wider American community. Instead, as popular American Muslim playwright Wajahat Ali recently wrote, 'the safest and best' response an American Muslim can have to the Boston Marathon bombings, 'is to freeze, smile widely, wave your American flags wildly, and repeat the mantra I love America patriotically'. @newreligionEU


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