Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American
There is a double standard: White terrorists are dealt with as lone wolves, Islamists are existential threats
By David Sirota
Because of these undeniable and pervasive double standards, the specific identity of the Boston Marathon bomber (or bombers) is not some minor detail — it will almost certainly dictate what kind of governmental, political and societal response we see in the coming weeks. That means regardless of your particular party affiliation, if you care about everything from stopping war to reducing the defense budget to protecting civil liberties to passing immigration reform, you should hope the bomber was a white domestic terrorist. Why? Because only in that case will privilege work to prevent the Boston attack from potentially undermining progress on those other issues.
To know that’s true is to simply consider how America reacts to different kinds of terrorism.
Though FBI data show fewer terrorist plots involving Muslims than terrorist plots involving non-Muslims, America has mobilized a full-on war effort exclusively against the prospect of Islamic terrorism. Indeed, the moniker “War on Terrorism” has come to specifically mean “War on Islamic Terrorism,” involving everything from new laws like the Patriot Act, to a new torture regime, to new federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to mass surveillance of Muslim communities.
By contrast, even though America has seen a consistent barrage of attacks from domestic non-Islamic terrorists, the privilege and double standards baked into our national security ideologies means those attacks have resulted in no systemic action of the scope marshaled against foreign terrorists. In fact, it has been quite the opposite—according to Darryl Johnson, the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, the conservative movement backlash to merely reporting the rising threat of such domestic terrorism resulted in DHS seriously curtailing its initiatives against that particular threat. (Irony alert: When it comes specifically to fighting white non-Muslim domestic terrorists, the right seems to now support the very doctrine it criticized Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for articulating—the doctrine that sees fighting terrorism as primarily “an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort” and not something more systemic.)
The identity of the person behind the Boston bombings will strongly affect our response--even O'Reilly agrees!
By David Sirota
O’Reilly starts out by stating something every American almost certainly agrees with: We should all be first and foremost hoping that the perpetrator—whoever he or she is—is apprehended as quickly as possible. Then he moves into an analysis of the future reaction. As O’Reilly put it, “If this is an international terror attack, the repercussions will be severe,” but, he added, “if it’s home-grown” that will just “be another stain on American history.”
In stating such an obvious truth, O’Reilly has (inadvertently) spotlighted the double standard that drives so much of our public policymaking and our cultural attitudes toward national security.
As he said, if the bomber ends up being a foreigner there will be a “severe” response—and if history is any guide, that means potentially a full-scale mobilization of military assets, passage of draconian civil liberties legislation, police surveillance of entire demographic groups and even perhaps a scuttling of the pending immigration bill. By contrast, if the bomber is one of the many “home-grown”—read: white domestic terrorist—attacks we’ve seen in recent years, it will merely be chalked up as “another stain on American history,” but will not necessarily prompt any kind of societal mobilization against any one particular group.
The reason, then, to hope that the bomber ends up being a white American is because the double standard may prevent an overreaction to the heinous attacks in Boston. Indeed, if the bomber ends up being a white American, there’s a decent chance we will not see a redux of the post-9/11 period when we (among other things) initiated reckless wars, passed privacy-trampling bills like the Patriot Act, overspent on the Pentagon and targeted wide swaths of the population for surveillance/warrantless wiretapping.
The same cannot be said if the bomber ends up being a Muslim—in that case, the double standard will work in the opposite way, encouraging another post-9/11 redux and all the attendant bad policies that came with it.
Bombers = Muslim Caucasians?
I am not the Tsarnaevs
The Tsarnaevs have nothing in common with me or other Muslims. But don't tell that to the political opportunists
By Wajahat Ali
The emotional press conference with Ruslan Tsarni, the suspects’ estranged uncle, proved that the privileges of Whiteness are lost when the individual is Muslim or born abroad. We all empathized with the uncle who said the suspects brought “shame” to his family. He volunteered to passionately defend his ethnicity, religion and patriotism in front of a sensationalistic court of public opinion for the alleged misdeeds of two family members, whom he called “losers” and not deserving to live on Earth. A reporter then asked, “What do you think of America?” – a question never posed to family members of white criminals. Tsarni passed the loyalty test by responding, “I respect this country. I love this country.”
Muslim mass murderers excluded from “Whiteness” are usually labeled “terrorist” as opposed to being categorized as “lone wolf,” “lone radical/gunman ” or “deeply disturbed.” The latter applies to white men, such as mass murderers Wade Page, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza, James Holmes and Anders Breivik.
This raises the legitimate question: What’s the difference between the “terrorism” of the Tsarnaev brothers and the “lone radical” violence of white supremacist Wade Page, who shot and killed six Sikh Americans at their temple? What are the definitions and standards for “terrorism”? Who decides?
Apparently, it’s new media, which covered the police hunt for the brothers as a “Choose Your Own Adventure” novel scripted by amateur Hardy Boys and “CSI” aficionados. Overnight, the world witnessed the birth of a great career opportunity for self-proclaimed experts on Chechnya, jihad, radicalization and counterterrorism, who emerged instantly using Google and Wikipedia to obtain their dubious scholarship.
This includes Chuck Woolery, self-identified conservative and a relic of ’80s game shows, who displayed brilliant, evidence-based, sociological insights with this helpful tweet: “Muslims can’t seem to live in peace with anyone. Even each other. FACT.” He continued his love connections with Muslims by adding, “All Muslims are not terrorists. Most, if not all terrorists are Muslims. Please dispute that.”
Sure, Chuck, I will. In the U.S., 56 percent of terrorist attacks and plots have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, 30 percent by eco-terrorists and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center recently reported the highest number of extremist hate groups ever recorded in U.S. history, with the sharp rise attributed to massive growths in white supremacist, anti-immigrant and radical anti-government groups. Anti-Muslim hate groups have also increased by 300 percent.
No one denies that radicalized Muslim violence is a problem, as evidenced by Nidal Hassan Malik, the unhinged Army major who killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood and injured 31, and Faisal Shahzad, the failed Times Square bomber.
When minority groups highlight double standards in language, labeling, media representation and government prosecution, we are accused of whining and espousing victimhood. However, Mr. Woolery, a privileged white male, implies America is still more oppressive to white, Christian Republicans: “If these guys [Boston bombing suspects] were white southern, christian, conservative, tea partiers we would know what they had for breakfast 3 yrs ago on May 16th.”
That explains why Daryl Johnson, a former counterterrorism expert for the government, submitted a study on the rise and danger of right-wing extremists and white supremacists only to be pressured, criticized, repudiated and ultimately sidelined by conservative members of Congress and the Department of Homeland Security.
Whatever their racial status, they seem to resemble young American mass murderers more than al-Qaida members
By Joan Walsh
So why are the Tsarnaev brothers not white, at least to right-wingers? Is it only because they’re Muslim? Muslim immigrants? Or is it because they’re “bad,” and whiteness must be surrendered when white people are bad?
Over its long history America has regularly featured a process of sorting white from non-white, even among European immigrant groups. I’m not a huge admirer of the now-dated whiteness studies academic movement, but those scholars did help illuminate the way various groups of European immigrants, particularly the Irish, but also Jews, Italians and Eastern Europeans, “became” white over time, in a complicated process of determined assimilation, gradually lessening prejudice by existing “white” society, and most important, the arrival of newcomers to take the place of the scapegoated non-white other, alongside the definitive non-white scapegoats, African-Americans. Embracing racism and xenophobia, sadly, could be a shortcut to white status for previously non-white European immigrants.
These days, though, Americans of Russian or Chechen descent are unambiguously categorized as “white” by the U.S. Census Bureau, which says it counts as white all “people having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa. It includes people who reported ‘White’ or wrote in entries such as Irish, German, Italian, Lebanese, Near Easterner, Arab, or Polish.” As I wrote Friday, the anguished outburst of Ruslan Tsarni, the brothers’ uncle in Maryland, was the quintessentially American cry of a newcomer wanting to be identified as a good, patriotic American–not necessarily as white, but certainly not as suspicious “other.”
So conservatives’ insistence the Tsarnaevs are absolutely not white is curious, to say the least.
By Chauncey DeVega
But race has historically been something negotiated by the courts, something that has legal standing, and something that has impacted people's lives across the color line. As Cheryl Harris and Ian Haney Lopez have written, to be "white" is to have a type of property in America. Because "whiteness" is property, it can be inherited, passed down from one person to another as an inheritance, and has value--both symbolic and monetary--under the law, and in the broader society.
European immigrants understood (and continue to understand) the value of whiteness. They knew to distance themselves from black folks as a way of becoming fully "white" and a "real American." The United States government helped to create race and reinforce the value of whiteness when it passed immigration laws that privileged "desirable races" from Europe over those "less desirable" from Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world.
And, of course, the racist implementation of the G.I. Bill and FHA Housing Programs after World War II helped to create whiteness again by creating a segregated place called "suburbia," and creating a stark divide in the racial wealth and income gap that is still with us today.
Race works through a type of "common sense" that is based on individual experiences, cultural norms, (misunderstandings of) history, the law, politics, as well as psychological motivations and decision-making that operate on both a conscious and subconscious level. In total, the race business is a type of magic and pseudo-science. This makes it no less real or important.
Whiteness is synonymous with "American" for those who have socialized into what sociologists such as Joe Feagin have termed "the white racial frame." Here, common sense dictates that "those people" look "American" and those "other people" do not.
For more on Islam, see The Logical Conclusion of Extremism and "Why Do They Hate Us?" 2012.
Below: Past and present savages, killers, and terrorists, according to Americans.