Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tragedy, Politics, and Knee-Jerk Reactions

It's really difficult to say something meaningful and sensitive after tragedies, like the Boston Marathon attacks on Monday or the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas last night. Everything I am thinking -- that this much human suffering breaks my heart, that I wish as much comfort as possible to the victims and their families, that I hope the culprits are swiftly caught -- has been said over and over, to that point that it feels like empty words.

But there is one thing I need to add, and that is that I cannot stand to see tragic events politicized or used as an excuse to discriminate or say terrible things about groups of people.

Whenever something earns the label "terrorism," as the events in Boston already have, far too many people jump to the same conclusions: Muslims, Saudis, Arabs, whatever word you want to use to mean "brown people whose god goes by a different name than mine." Obviously, this isn't OK. It's racism. It's Islamophobia, which is closely tied to racism since the image of the "extremist Muslim" is generally a darker-skinned person.

Can I reiterate the "not OK" part? Again? Because I feel like it can't be said enough. The New York Post is guilty of it, not once, but twice. The night this happened, they ran their incorrect story about a "Saudi national" being taken into custody, and then this morning's cover story is about two teenagers -- yes, one of them appears to be non-white -- who have been accused of the crime based on some photos of them in the crowd.

I get that people want to see the culprits caught. I even get that detectives make mistakes. However, I cannot get behind the witch hunt that has pit people against Muslims, or anyone that is guilty of being brown in public.

Besides, it seems worthwhile to point out that Timothy McVeigh was white. And you know what? If the bomber turns out to be a homegrown white terrorist like him, people won't classify my entire race as dangerous. Yet after 9/11 they are willing to be suspicious of anyone that kind of looks like they could be from the Middle East.

In addition, last night after the explosion in Texas, there was a comment on a news story (pro tip: don't read the comments on news stories) saying that liberals probably wouldn't care about it because it was in Texas.

Why must we make such crass knee-jerk statements? Let's set aside how wrong that is, how I could easily point out the irony in that some conservatives will write off New York City as a left-wing cesspool of heathen gayness unless it's politically advantageous to exploit 9/11, and the fact that there are liberal people living in Texas. Why must human tragedy be made political? Can't we just be sad, mourn, offer support, and spread the word without making partisan attacks?

Personally, I would prefer to avoid finger-pointing and racism, and to focus on what's important, which is finding out what kinds of aid can be sent from other areas to both Texas and Boston, and then helping as much as I can. I live in a city that was attacked by man 12 years ago (note: I didn't live here then) and by nature six months ago. I've seen how it's possible for people to work together to help each other. So let's do that.

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