Boston Bombings

04.22.13

How The Media Chose Its Boston 'Suspects'

On tax day, Monday April 15, I was enjoying my daily ritual of watching General Hospital when my soaps were interrupted by the shocking breaking news that there had been a bombing at the Boston Marathon. As the chaos and carnage unfolded live on television, the media immediately began to guess out loud, the race and religion of the monster who had committed such a heinous crime. Before the smell of blood and smoke had cleared, they had come to the conclusion, based on little to no facts, that the bombings must be the work of Islamic extremists who hated America.

Grotesque acts of violence are considered Muslim-esque by self appointed experts. The thought that such horror could be wrought by a white boy who wasn't hugged enough, doesn't seem to occur to them. Their rush to place the blame on shady brown people who hate bacon triggered a witch hunt. In the wake of this heartbreaking tragedy, at least three men were publicly, virally, and falsely accused.

A good Samaritan at the Boston Marathon claimed to have seen a Saudi spectator acting strangely in the direct after math of the bombings. Their definition of strange was the fact that the man was brown and running away from the blast. I'm in awe of the heroes who ran towards the victims of the explosion, but I cannot tell a lie I too would have run in the opposite direction, as fast as my palsy legs could carry me. Chatter on the interwebs suggested that the Saudi national was a prime suspect. Sources, who you should never tell anything to because she will always leak it, claimed he was being interrogated at the hospital by the police. The media parroted this, ignoring the fact that everyone being treated at the hospital for injuries sustained at the marathon was also being questioned. They were all witnesses. Several hours later, during one of the many press conferences, spokespeople made it clear that the Saudi dude was a victim, not a suspect. They said he had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and by that they meant cheering on a marathon during a domestic terror attack.

Next to take the fall was a 17-year-old high school track star, who woke up to find his face splashed across the front page of the New York Post. The headline implied that the teen of Moroccan heritage was implicated in the bombings. The Post failed to mention that the kid, whose head they had circled in the photo on their front page, was not a suspect or even a person of interest at any point. His crime was simply being born brown which the editors found to be the equivalent of a full written confession. 

The final accused was coincidentally also brown and possibly the saddest tale of all. Somebody on Reddit’s first cousin twice removed sister-in-law’s boyfriend’s cat heard on a police scanner that one of the bombing suspects was a Brown University student who had been missing for a month. Social media instantly called for his public execution. They accused his family of ignoring his depression, which they had publicly addressed following his disappearance, and unleashing their disturbed kid on society. The missing student's parents knew that their child bore no resemblance to the man in the grainy FBI photo being circulated; but there was nothing they could do to stop the online mob from calling him a child killer, a terrorist, and every slur for Indian you can imagine. Their son, who authorities later verified was never a suspect, remains missing and will forever have his name linked to this atrocity.

With no one left to falsely accuse, CNN's John King took it to the next level. Sources had been talking again and she told John, according to him, that the suspect was dark-skinned. I was hoping CNN would cue one of their legendary computer graphics to pop up and explain to me exactly what “dark-skinned” is code for. Are we talking Denzel or Boehner? Does orange qualify as dark? Was he implying they were Middle Eastern or Muslim? Middle Easterners come in all shades and sizes, so do Muslims. My mom has white, porcelain-doll skin and burns like a vampire in the sun. I, on the other hand, look like the lost Kardashian sister. 

Aside from being accidentally racist, John King was also totally wrong. Following a car chase and manhunt that put OJ to shame, one suspect was dead and the other was in custody. We had the names no one could pronounce and faces of the culprits. I watched Islamaphobes tiny brains short circuit when they realized the suspects were white and Muslim. Their assumption had always been that Mohammedans were all brown and wore towels on their heads, not baseball caps. As the news was keen to remind us, the suspects were not born here. They were ethnic Chechens, which means they're originally from the Caucuses. That is where the word Caucasian comes from. You can't get much whiter than that. The media and peanut gallery missed that class and immediately cast them as “others.” On-air personalities referred to them as Chechen, even though the nineteen year old suspect, in custody, is an American citizen. They also made sure the viewing audience knew the alleged bombers were Muslim. To this day, I do not know what religion or heritage James Holmes or Jared Loughner is. No one in the media ever pointed to the Christmas decorations on the Lanza house as proof of Adam and Nancy's ties to Christian extremists; yet these two sociopaths religious affiliation was widely reported. If you are suspected of a heinous crime and you happen to be born Muslim, the media refuses to even entertain the notion that religion may not be the motive. Muslims can't just be deeply disturbed, as their non-Muslim murderous peers are so lovingly described and the concept of them being bullied until they snap is inconceivable. They must have been radicalized by a nefarious cleric on YouTube. That is the only logical explanation. This is absurd. You can't blame Islam for the terror attack in Boston anymore than you can blame Batman for the massacre in Aurora, but that did nothing to stop the media from doing just that.

Before I ever knew the Tsarnaev’s names, I knew their religion. The pundits bent over backward to find links between these monsters and America-hating islamists. They cast the older brother as the one who couldn’t fit in. He's quoted saying he doesn’t have one American friend. This was repeated ad naseum during the Boston manhunt coverage. What I didn’t hear was the fact that he was married to an American woman who he shared a child with. How's that for not fitting in? They also emphasized that he didn't drink and supposedly prayed five times a day, as if those were tell tale sign of extremism. His little bro was a much bigger challenge for those desperate to scape-goat Islam. He liked to Tweet and just like any average American ego-maniacal jerk-off college guy, his timeline was a mix of teenage musings, rap lyrics, and a sprinkle of misogyny. So-called experts analyzed his seemingly vapid tweets and managed to turn him into a textbook example of a jihadi among us.

I am in no way implying he is innocent, but as I listened, it occurred to me that it'd be fairly easy for the folks at Fox and Friends to morph me from a disabled clown into a terrorista based on my online presence. They could  point out my Tweets on Palestine and those calling out white privilege. They could note I had posted several YouTube videos of the Quran being recited in Arabic, after the devastating loss of my father. They'd assume I had been radicalized by my grief and the fact I was barren and could not have children. My trips back and forth over the past three decades to the West Bank would be scrutinized. They'd show Facebook photos of me canoodling with refugees and paint me as an extremist by saying things like, “She would fast for an entire month from sunrise to sunset.”

We don't know yet what these  brothers’ motives actually were, but law enforcement seems confident the duo acted alone. Their extended family was quick to distance themselves from the accused. When the flashing lights and cameras descended upon their doorsteps, the thick accented uncles of the suspects unequivocally condemned their actions and desperately tried to prove that they, unlike their loser nephews, were more American than apple pie. Muslim organizations, far and wide, put out statements condemning the bombings and distancing the faith from the brothers atrocities in response to the vitriolic hatred being spewed online towards the over 1 billion Muslims walking the earth. I have been called many slurs for Muslim in my time, but this week added an entire chapter to my lexicon. I still refuse to apologize on behalf of or for my faith. I wasn’t required to publicly state that I condemn Oscar Pistorius riddling his victim with bullets just because we are both from the tribe called disabled and I have just as much in common with these two lunatics. 

When the surviving Tsarnaev was captured, Congressmen Peter King and Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham called for him to be treated as an enemy combatant even though he was an American citizen, on U.S. soil, and no political motivations were established. The Administration was quick to let us know that the suspect in custody would not be read his Miranda rights immediately and we the people learned we no longer had the right to be read our rights; so we better know them. During the manhunt, Boston turned into a police state with absolutely no resistance from the residents. Images of Watertown on television reminded me of my days living under curfew in Bethlehem, during the Second Intifada. The government rolled in and the citizens rolled over. Terror continues to win as our civil liberties continue to dwindle.

There is still much to be learned about the motives behind the bombings on Patriots Day that left three dead and scores permanently disabled. But one thing we do know is that the Tsarnaevs had something undeniably in common with their murderous peers. Like Holmes and Lanza, they had an arsenal at their disposal. Their fourth victim, MIT police officer Sean Collier, was shot to death. No matter how the NRA and Congress try to spin it, easy access to guns is a far greater threat to American lives than Islam ever was.