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Of Boston Bombings and Twisted Logic

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By Ramzy Baroud

We still do not know much about the Boston Marathon bombings on April 15, apart from information passed on by the media — citing mostly official sources. If the past was of value then it is fair to conclude that the official narrative could be misleading, dotted with inconsistencies and as was in the case made to invade Iraq, filled with outright lies.

One piece of information we know for sure is that the suspected bombers, the brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were white, but as Sarah Kendzior wrote in Al Jazeera, “The wrong kind of Caucasian”. Moreover, they were not the stereotypical “Islamic terrorists” around, which a thriving media industry has grown on since the attacks of September 11, 2001 — bearded men, wielding guns speaking in broken Arabic and the rest of the comical representation. For some in the media, these issues created a dichotomy that had to be filled in somehow. Naturally, the spin-doctors came to the rescue.

So early on, CNN’s reporter John King reached an unfounded conclusion: The suspect, he said, was a “dark-skinned man”. The search must have already been under way for that dark-skinned man that of course did not exist. It was a typical media “error”, despite the fact that the last few months have seen a spate of violent attacks, mostly targeting children, and were carried out by “white-skinned men”.

The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), an African-American civil rights organisation, responded to CNN with a scathing statement on April 18. “CNN used an overly broad, unhelpful and potentially racially inflammatory categorisation to describe the potential suspect,” said NAACP president and chief executive, Benjamin Todd Jealous. “History teaches us that too often people of colour are unfairly targeted in the aftermath of acts of terrorism.”

Although the FBI’s own ‘wanted’ poster referred to the suspects’ race as “white”, the Week magazine wished to disagree. In their May 3 edition, the cover of the magazine was of two sinister looking brown-skinned men, supposedly the two brothers. They looked as if they were crossover drawings between how some in the media imagine what a Middle Eastern and a South American immigrant would be like. But Tamerlan and Dzhokhar were white and very much American.

Posting on his blog, Brofiling, Hari Stephen Kumar perceptively wrote of the Week cover: “This is how white privilege works in media representations and everyday life: When the criminal suspects are demonstrably white men, seize upon any aspect of difference and magnify it such that they become ‘Othered’, ‘non-white’ and ‘menacing’”. But if such deviousness is not possible and “whiteness” is too palpable to overlook, then “simply dismiss [violent acts] as aberrations and isolated cases of insanity.”

“Why?” asks, Kumar, “because in addition to being white they are also Muslim,” and here is where Islamophobia merges with everyday racism. But this requires some context.

During his talk sponsored by the New American Foundation in March 2008, author Parag Khanna addressed the rising challenges facing the US’s global hegemony. According to Khanna, China and the European Union are the new contenders with the battlefield being a global “geopolitical marketplace”.

Aside from Khanna’s insight, one statement particularly puzzled me. “Why am I talking about Europe, China and the United States? What about Russia, what about India, what about Islam … what about all those other powers?” The speaker must surely realise that Islam is a religion, not a political entity with a definable “geopolitical marketplace”. But it was not an error, or more accurately, it was a deliberate error. Khanna went on to explain that Islam did not have “that kind of coherence” that allowed it to spread its power and influence, unlike the dominant other powers which he highlighted. According to that odd logic, Islam and Brazil were discussed in a similar context.

This sort of twisted reasoning has flourished as an academic discipline-turned-industry in recent years. In the last decade or so, a relatively specialised business multiplied and became mainstream wisdom. Its numerous ‘experts’ — who are more like intellectual purveyors — became well-known faces in American news networks. Their once ‘politically incorrect’ depiction of Arabs, Muslims and the non-western world at large, became acceptable views which were then translated into actual policies used for invading countries, torturing prisoners.

For these intellectual con-artists, numbers are of no relevance for their logic is never swayed by facts. One, however, is tempted. In the US, there have been nearly 900,000 gun fatalities in the last 30 years or so (from 1980 to present day), compared to around 3,400 terrorism-related fatalities in the last 40 years or so (from 1970 to present). These figures include victims of the terror attacks of September 11. This unsurprising fact was recently referred to by MSNBC’s All In With Chris Hayes and raised some critical points.

If the US wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen (plus numerous other lesser acts of violence committed in the name of “fighting terror”) were indeed compelled by the preciousness of American lives, then the least US Congress should do is tighten gun control laws in their own country. However, respected members of Congress are fighting the good fight to keep things as they are, in the name of protecting the Second Amendment to the US Constitution.

But rights are infringed at will whenever it suits US foreign policy makers and their intellectual peddlers. Despite the fact that the war on Iraq was illegal and that torture of prisoners a loud violation of the US’s own Constitution and the Bill of Rights, America’s war rages on and the Guantanamo gulag is thriving.

Soon after news of the Boston Marathon bombings, the anti-Muslim circus was back in town, as political jugglers, along with media acrobats, seemed to reach the ever-predictable conclusion: Hate all Muslims and do whatever possible to exploit any tragedy to further US hegemonic interest in the Middle East. Eric Rush, a Fox News pundit, summed up that sentiment when he called for the killing of all Muslims following the bombings and then later claimed that his tweets were meant to be sarcastic. Ann Coulter, on the other hand, called for women to be put in jail for “wearing a Hijab”.

This type of hate-mongering is of course not random, no matter how palpably “crazy” the people behind it are. It is an essential component of ensuring that a largely uninformed public is always on board whenever the US is ready for yet another military adventure involving a Muslim country. As for the inaccurate depiction of the suspects as “dark-skinned”, that too had its many uses as some senators conveniently rushed to delay immigration reform debate, exploiting the Boston tragedy to achieve their long existing political agenda.

– Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is: My Father was A Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press).