Society often too quick to lay blame

By Shaheed Shihan

As the news of the Boston Marathon bombings flooded every social media, my concern for those involved faced a crucial dilemma. My apprehension for those hurt in the bombings was succeeded by a distinctly Arab-Muslim-Brown psychosis: “Please don’t let the culprit be Arab or Muslim.” 

The fear was sounded in unison by several Muslim prodigies around the U.S., as indicated by the Twitter trend. Borne from the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center to Sandy Hook was a sickening and debilitating concern of guilt that was shared by the Muslim community here in the US. Indeed, it may typify exactly what it means to be an Arab, American-Muslim or just brown-skinned. 

The preliminary reports from “The New York Post” that the Boston police had seized a Saudi National worsened my fear. The knots in my stomach tightened. Conservative columnist Erik Rush stated: 

“Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let’s bring more Saudis in without screening them! C’mon!”

He also tweeted, “[Muslims] are Evil. Let’s Kill them all.”

The headlines persisted with this sort of language even after Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis confirmed law enforcement had no suspects in custody. There was no established link between the explosions and Arabs or Muslims, but this did not prevent Rush from rushing to that conclusion. Here’s a CNN ticker from the day of the Boston tragedy: “Police looking for dark skinned or black male with foreign accent.” That’s basically a description of all of the men in my family. Two passengers headed to Chicago from Logan Airport were de-boarded a day after the Boston tragedy because other passengers expressed concern hearing them speak Arabic.

This behavior persists despite the fact that terrorist incidents involving American Muslims are in decline for the third straight year. Terrorism is a notion based on people’s psychological reaction to a set of events. In fact, raw numbers show that since 9/11 more American people have died from fear of planes and driving than that were actually killed in attacks involving Arab-Americans. 

The implications of such ignorant, uninformative and biased comments from recognized individuals are detrimental for a positive college atmosphere — especially one like SDSU’s, where the population is predominantly conservative and white with a rapidly evolving African-American and international community. 

What I learned from the Saudi suspect fiasco is this: run away from life-threatening explosions in a calm, friendly manner, so as not to arouse suspicion. Another option includes running towards the explosion, though you risk being falsely accused of orchestrating the violence. A third option is to stay in place with a smile plastered on your face — though your well-intentioned attempts to pacify panic may unfortunately be marked as celebration instead. 

The truth is that when a Caucasian individual is accused of committing an act of terror, he alone bears the brunt of responsibility for his crime, and the collective burden is not assigned on those who share his features. This privilege should be shared by all individuals, citizens or foreign nationals residing in America. 

The moment of time between the catastrophe and capturing the culprit is nail-biting: I kept switching between tabs of CNN, Al-Jazeera and BBC to find out more. This prevailing state of guilt, terror and unease characterizes what it means to be Arab and Muslim-American today. Society’s method of instantly promoting a certain community, based on race and religion, to the level of guilt strips one from the ability to grieve. 

For me, college has been a medium for open-mindedness. Meeting people from around the globe has played an integral part. I ask of you to not let guilt by association rob you of that experience, because it is one you will never regret. 


Shaheed Shihan is majoring in mathematics. He can be emailed at [email protected].