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Tragedies after Tragedy: Ignorance and Blame in the Boston Marathon

Undoubtedly, an act of terrorism is an abominable action. But even as things calm down – suspects caught, victims recovering – a new type of tragedy sets it: American ignorance. Though the Boston bombings left three dead and over two hundred injured, Americans have no right to blame an entire religion or another region of the world for the actions of two people.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are not blameless in their attack on Boston. Their actions resulted in shattered lives and destroyed dreams. They have no excuse for the horrors that they caused. That said, they are individuals. The Tsarnaev brothers are not representative of an entire population; they do not represent the ideas and values of every Muslim or every Chechen. Their actions were not spurred by a culture or a way of life. They were spurred by events that occurred in and out of the U.S., unique to them.

Yet, many Americans have taken this as an opportunity to blame Islam for the actions of a few. It is true that the Boston bombings are reminiscent of 9/11, which was led by Muslim group Al Qaeda, but neither of these attacks shows that Muslims are at all violent and constantly want the death of Americans. The coincidence uncovers an enormous amount of ignorance in the American people. A Yahoo! article from April 22 reveals a great amount of discrimination and unwarranted bias against Muslims as it describes the life of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s American-born wife. One quote says that Katherine Russell (note that they also do not use her married name to show the greater difference between her “American” life and her “Muslim” life) used to dress in “normal clothes” before she eventually began wearing a headscarf as a result of her conversion. Another quote says she used to be part of an art club and a dance team, but as soon as she converted to Islam, none of that was possible any longer. This article, similar to many others that surfaced on the Internet this past week, tell readers that Islam is a constricting, dangerous religion – one that will destroy your life and the lives of others if you convert.

Is this true in any sense whatsoever? All that these types of attitudes result in are a greater disparity between different social groups in our collective American culture. An American Muslim is not separate from an American, not a different people than any other group within America. There is also an assumption among the American people that this extremism was a result of living in the Chechen region of Russia, but again, two people are not a culture. They are individuals, led by individual thoughts and individual reasoning; they are not representative of a culture.

The other main area of ignorance revealed by the Boston bombings is the American lack of knowledge of the rest of the world. As many Americans learned last week, Chechnyans do not in fact come from the Czech Republic, as the president of the Czech Republic was kind enough to clarify for the American people. It’s hard to tell if the rest of the world is shocked or laughing at Americans’ poor geography skills, and their quick response to disparage the wrong country with insults and disgust at their terrorist citizens.

Here again we find another discrepancy in American thinking: almost instantaneously we blame another country or another religion for the way two people turned out, even though they lived in the United States and were either in the process of gaining citizenship or already a citizen. In contrast, we do not blame our own country for the actions of a domestic terrorist who attempted to poison President Obama and another senator around the same time as the Boston bombings. Our country is plagued with xenophobia and the idea of cultural American exceptionalism. In the few news reports found about the letter poisoner, for whom a suspect has not been formally charged, the town in Mississippi from which the letters came is not questioned for the type of environment it has that may or may not foster domestic terrorists. It is quietly assumed that American cities and towns cannot grow these horrible people; these people are oddities in our cities, savages isolated and different from the rest of us.

This is not to say that all Americans are ignorant, just as all Muslims or all Chechens are terrorists; there are very informed and knowledgeable citizens in our country in addition to the ignorant. But in the end, Americans create a negative stereotype for our culture and our society. Despite the rising levels of patriotism and the admirable actions and heroics that the Boston bombings revealed in our police, firefighters, paramedics, doctors, and everyday civilians, there is a great risk of America suffering more ramifications – ramifications that come not from the horrors imposed on us, but that come from ourselves.

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