In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, examines the revival of anti-Islam myths and lies—and the distorted depiction of the history of Chechnya.
THE HUNT for the “whos” ended last Friday with the death of one suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings and the capture of a second. But the search for the “whys” has continued in high gear—and it has uncovered depressing evidence of how xenophobia and anti-Islam bigotry shape post-9/11 America.
The bombings were a horrific act. The devices were constructed to maim and planted as if to guarantee that the victims would be random—people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, unlikely to have any power or position of responsibility in society.
So people everywhere naturally want to know why anyone would carry out such sickening violence. But the answers the media have been providing are filled with misinformation and colored by prejudice.
This was true to some extent from the start. But whatever degree of restraint the media showed in the first days evaporated once the bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were identified as Muslims who had immigrated to the U.S. as children from the Caucasus in Russia.
It hasn’t been just the ranting windbags of the right-wing media, either. To be sure, the reactionaries at Fox News seized the chance to heap abuse on their favorite scapegoats. Like Laura Ingraham, who declared that the U.S. should shut down all immigration from countries with a Muslim majority. “Dagestan, Chechnya, Kyrgyzstan, uh-uh,” she said. “As George Bush would say, ‘None of them ‘stans.’”
But supposedly objective media outlets have added to the muck—with their scramble to broadcast any and all scraps of information about the suspects, with little regard for the source or the context.
These reports often come with a qualification—like the CNN reporter who described an innocuous tweet by one suspect and then declared: “It may mean something. It may mean nothing. We don’t know.” But after days of being flooded with trivia and disconnected facts, half-truths and whole untruths, it’s all too easy for people to come up with wrong answers about the “whys.”
As Matthew Kupfer wrote at Registan, a website that covers Eurasian politics, when the media report that Tamerlan Tsarnaev chose Islam from a list of religions to describe his “worldview” at a Russian-based social media site, the implication is that he must be a radical fundamentalist. Likewise, the two suspects’ Chechen origins are tacitly associated with the armed struggle against Russian repression—without any evidence that there is an association.
The aftermath of the Marathon bombings has led to a revival of the kind of anti-Islam myths and falsehoods commonplace after the September 11 attacks—as well as a warped depiction of the history of Chechnya and its people.
If these go unchallenged, they will become part of the justification for the agenda of militarism and state repression, at the expense of people around the world, including in the U.S. So those of us who want to stand against violence and injustice have to start by dispelling the media’s fog of prejudice and misinformation….