The tragic attacks at the Boston Marathon, in which two explosions left at least three people dead and over 100 injured, have evoked some sad memories of the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks. I’m reminded of the intolerance that was spurred as a result of theses events, which makes unity in the wake of the Boston attacks even more crucial than ever.
Running the Boston Marathon has been my dream for years but that dream has been stained with blood by this vicious incident.
I remember my first race like it happened yesterday. It was a half marathon in Pasadena, California. The weather had been rainy a few days prior, but on race day the sun was shining for what would be perfect running weather. Completing that race was one of the best experiences of my life. I recall passing the finish line and the feeling of complete and utter jubilation filled my heart. I wasn’t elated about my time — I was no professional marathon athlete — or the fact that there would be an awesome concert following the race. Instead, it was the feeling of accomplishment and success that made me happy. When the young volunteer put the fancy medallion around my neck, it was symbolic of my assiduous dedication. It solidified my running obsession and at that moment I thought, “that was the half way mark of Boston, one day.”
When I first received updates about the explosions at the Boston Marathon, a race I hold with high regard and admiration, I was completely shocked. Anger and disbelief made my body shiver, and my first thought was what kind of sick mind would commit such a heinous act? My second thought was “Please don’t be Muslim! Please don’t be Muslim.” In an instant I was reminded of the vilification of the Muslim community following the September 11 attacks. It wasn’t easy being an American Muslim post 9/11. Being called a “terrorist” by random individuals who yelled, “go back to your country” wasn’t even the hardest part. No, the worst thing about being Muslim at the time was the hatred complete strangers felt towards me. I wasn’t given a chance to explain that the United States is my country and that I too was irate that anyone would attack my home.
And because of these experiences, I hope that no matter what the investigation yields we remember not to equate the actions of one deranged and monstrous individual with the actions of an entire group. Hypothetically speaking, if the attacker(s) responsible for this tragic event happened to be Christian, no one should imply that Christianity as a collective fabric, and Christians as a community advocate for the belligerent attack on innocent individuals.
While the outcome of the investigation is indeterminate at the moment, one thing is clear to me: this was a terrorist attack committed by a terrorist. After all, by definition, a terrorist attack is a deliberate use of violence against a civilian population with the intent of instilling fear. However, post 9/11 has produced an ethnic and/or religious component to the definition; one that has made the word terrorist synonymous with Muslim or someone perceived to be Muslim. We shouldn’t feel diffidence about calling an event a terrorist attack but we need to recognize that this classification is made based on the action itself and not the ethnic or religious background of the individual who commits the action.
I pray that any blatant uproar of intolerance and bigotry will be met with stronger acts of kindness and tolerance. Feelings of indignation are natural however they should be directed towards the attacker for her/his action and NOT for the religious or ethnic identity she/he may represent. If we turn on each other then the terrorist would have succeeded in not only attacking this country, but also attacking the cherished principles it represents. Unity, in a time of sadness and despair, is the only way we can recover and eventually move forward.
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