From Russia, without Love.
‘For every exotic twist of an attempt at pronouncing his name, there is a theory to explain his motives.’ These are words that I remember writing in an article for my University newspaper in the aftermath of the failed ‘underwear bomb plot’ by a student of UCL, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab. That was an event that we thought could have chilling implications. So far removed were the alleged beliefs and activities of this young man from the experiences of any Muslims I knew, that it had to be made clear that Muslim students collectively did not constitute a sinister cabal committed to acts of the grossest inhumanity. That’s what went through my mind at least.
Here was a middle class Engineering student whose upbringing, intelligence and education were no barriers to an act of terrorism. In one sense, certainly, it failed to be an act of terrorism: farcically, the bomb didn’t go off and his underpants caught fire. In another sense, though, it was a very successful act of terrorism. It was successful in the sense that it spread terror through the minds of ordinary people. It sowed the seeds of suspicion and it bought anxiety and a feeling of uncertainty. It bred, I think, a sense of paranoia. To my mind, it meant that no Muslim, regardless of background, could be deemed exempt from being a terrorist in the making.
Successive acts of terrorism only compound this deep sense of mistrust. Personally, I feel less and less inclined to openly proclaim my beliefs with every new bomb blast. Every blast blows apart the nascent bonds of trust and understanding. Every blast causes a haemorrhage to the ordinary person’s sense of reason. Every blast causes, increasingly, a visceral reaction.
This was how I felt when I saw throngs of cheering Bostonians on the news after the capture of 19 year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. I may be wrong, but this seemed to be a strange reaction to the news of the capture of Tsarnaev. Scenes of jubilation just didn’t seem to fit the context. A sense of relief, surely, but unbridled joy? This was also how I felt when I learned about the reluctance of many Imam’s to offer funeral rites for the elder brother. This reluctance to be associated with the bombers has nothing to do (as far as I understand) with Islamic funeral practices, so can only be explained as an ultra-defensive reaction: no-one wants to be tainted by an association with a terrorist, even if what remains of him is a cadaver. No-one wants to have anything to do with the body, because it might be interpreted that you sympathise with him, or even condone his actions. No-one wants to be perceived to be reading blessings over the body of a terrorist. These thoughts have made the Muslims of Boston fall into a state of fretful inertia.
If ordinary people are not the direct victims of terrorist atrocities, they become indirect victims. They huddle together, like the cheering people of Boston appeared to do- not a brown face in their midst. On the other side, Muslims pledge their allegiances and make proclamations beginning ‘We Bostonians…’ It’s a way of saying that they’re with the huddled masses, not apart. Judging by the reported rise in Islamaphobic incidents since the bombing, Americans are not convinced.
The erosion of trust has been evident for some time, and it is making it increasingly difficult for anyone to behave reasonably. Our reactions are becoming more insular and almost primitive as we seek to defend ourselves against sinister forces.