President Obama's cautious admonition not to rush to judgment about the Boston Marathon terror bombing until all the facts were in put a momentary check on the media and some in the public who were rushing to spew the perennial "Muslim terrorists" did it line. This was a sign of hope that the nation had grown and the media in its mad flight to frenzy and sensationalism would take a breath, and do as Obama said and wait until a suspect or suspects was identified. The moment that happened and the evidence pointed squarely at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev , two foreigners, and apparent Muslims, that caution evaporated fast. Government officials and the police called it an act of terrorism, which by any definition it was, but still kept to the high ground and did not utter a breath putting "Muslim" in front of the word "terrorism."
This restraint was crucial because there was also peril in the heinous and diabolical attack. Muslim groups understood this and issued the ritual denunciations of the attack, and that included Russian and Chechen officials who roundly condemned it, as well as a Tsarnaev family member. One of the first in the door to condemn the attack as "despicable and cowardly" was the Zakat Foundation of America, a charity and humanitarian group that aids Chechens and other Muslims in need in America.
The murder and mayhem was just that, the apparent crazed act of two disgruntled, despondent teens. The thousands of Muslims that have sought refuge in this country from ethnic warfare in Russia, and thousands more from nearby regions in Southern Russia now live in many cities and towns throughout America and are hard-working, model citizens. There is a small but growing Chechen community in Los Angeles and California. They have posed no crime or violence problems, and have for the most part successfully adapted to the country.
This doesn't mean that the psychic trauma and scars they carry from the ethnic conflict that ripped their countries, and the shock of being uprooted from their homes, has healed. Many of the refugees have showed, according to studies, chronic signs of anxiety and depression. A sizeable number of them showed even more severe signs of trauma, and complained continually of fear, tenseness, and loneliness. In many cases, their trauma and sense of isolation did not evaporate with time.
There's no evidence yet that the Tsarnaevs were so shell shocked by events in the country since they hadn't lived there for years that they were driven to plant bombs and shoot at and kill police. Even if there was evidence of trauma that would be no justification for their heinous acts and certainly no consolation to the families of the victims or to a city trying to make sense of their alleged senseless act, and to heal. Still, studies have shown that war and trauma are closely and sometimes tragically woven together. It also showed that many refuges in the U.S. from war torn countries are still in desperate need of continued help and resources from government and social service agencies to ease their transition here.
This also means that public officials, as Obama and Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick wisely did, when public anger and passions run hot following a terror attack must do everything possible to dampen those flames. In fact, public officials can play the decisive role in heading off any anti-immigrant or anti-Muslim backlash to the violent acts of a few. When homegrown terrorist Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City federal building in 1996, the predictable happened. By week's end, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, there were more than 200 physical and verbal attacks against American Muslims, which included the burning of three Islamic mosques and community centers.
A full-blown domestic anti-Muslim witch-hunt was brewing. But then President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno did not rush to judgment and scapegoat Arabs. The swift arrest of McVeigh squelched the building mob hysteria against them. President Bush, like Clinton, in his first public words after the terror attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon did not reflexively finger-point Arab terrorists. He took great pains to publicly rebuke the acts of harassment or violence against American Muslims and Sikhs in some cities. This did much to prevent wholesale acts of violence against Muslims.
The Boston Marathon bombing was shocking and horrific. It, as all terror attacks do, cause untold personal pain and suffering. But the tragedy also showed that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in America from war torn countries are working hard to rebuild their shattered lives. They deserve praise for their resilience against the odds, and for always being among the first to loudly denounce the despicable acts of those who sully Muslims by committing abominable acts. The message from them and all should always be hunt terrorists, not witch hunt Muslims.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. His new ebook is: Inside the NRA: How the NRA Terrorizes Congress. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.
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