Of Black Flags and Careless Connections
In her latest “Thought Leaders” piece for Rappler.com, Maria Ressa writes:
Much like the Madrid bombings in 2004 that killed 191 people and the London bombings in 2005 that killed 52, the Boston bombings were carried out by men who integrated into their societies and benefited from the liberalism and inclusiveness of the West. Yet, despite their seemingly Western ways, the attackers in London and Madrid harbored deep hatred sparked by al-Qaeda’s virulent ideology – perhaps much like Tamerlan, who said, “I don’t have a single American friend. I don’t understand them.”
I’m not one to play an “expert” or anything – I just have views – but Ms. Ressa’s view is a dangerous one to make. It’s a connection present in such theories as Huntington’s “clash of civilizations,” or Krauthammer’s “bloody borders of Islam.” It’s a connection that was used to validate everything from post-9/11 racial profiling to the War on Terror, to cable news anchors trying to pin the Boston bombings to anyone with an Muslim-sounding name and Arab facial features.
It’s one that places unnecessary fears and burdens to anyone in the United States who does not have the “American-sounding name” or the “American facial features.” Or anyone in the world, for that matter. “The face of evil,” so to speak.
It’s one that creates black flags out of careless connections.
Reading Ms. Ressa’s piece reminds me of John Updike’s Terrorist, but without the nuances and background that creates the motivation for Ahmad Mulloy (the central character in the novel) to become one. Rather, with all due respect, Ms. Ressa implies the tenuous connection that has somewhat found firm footing in modern global policy: that Islam has bloody borders, and in her own words: “The Tsarnaev brothers match the profile that most worries American law enforcement: long-time American residents familiar with American culture, geography and customs with ethnic roots and values that allow them to develop deep connections to Islamic movements overseas.”
And then what? Is the connection a trend? Not really. Many perpetrators of murder and terrorist acts in the United States didn’t even belong to this view of things, and still committed murder and terrorism. People like Timothy McVeigh, David Koresh, Terry Nichols, Ted Kaczynski, and so on and so forth. For that matter, what does this make of Filipinos in the United States, for example, and the Abu Sayyaf? Or Koreans here, and North Koreans? Or worse, is that logic exclusive to people who are Muslim, Middle Eastern?
Whatever happened to looking at our own “bloody borders,” and see people hate a system we have so much in common with with America? If Tamerlan did not understand America (using the term loosely), how much of America understood where Tamerlan came from? Dzokhar became a US citizen on September 11, 2012: do we really have to resort to Da Vinci Code-esque assumptions as to why terrorists exist? What about the shortcomings of society, the ones that are enough to put people on the road to radicalism because they aren’t as much “part of us” as they are excluded from things because of their names or their culture? Or discriminated against? As uncomfortable as it is to make a connection this way, it’s one that builds context more than detective-story connections.
This isn’t an apology for the terrorism in Boston, or terrorists in general. Far from it. The perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings should be dealt the firmest punishment as the law will allow. But when we remove the perpetrator from the context to fit the bill of our own preconceived notions we don’t sow “awareness.” Rather, we sow fear: in profiling the Tsarnaev brothers this way we recreate the climate of a post-9/11 world. We create a climate that brings about such books with titles like “American Jihad” or “Future Jihad.” Fear that the Rappler mood meter itself can reliably pick out of its audience.
Do these connections then validate things like the Balikatan exercises? Does this connection validate – somewhat apologize – for the wars in the Middle East that claimed the lives of people who were anything but extremists or jihadists? Does this connection then validate the idea that many immigrants in the United States or wherever have the insidious intent to mete out harm instead of extend gratitude? It does not. Simply because there is no connection to speak of. Or if there is, it doesn’t hit at the root of the problem. It intensifies it, in the same way that history shows its uncomfortable faces. Like Japanese internment camps, Guantanamo Bay, prostituted women in Angeles, comfort women, racial profiling in a post-9/11 world.
And that’s a black flag in itself: several hues darker than we imagine it to be.