WASHINGTON -- Politicians, pundits, and average Americans alike are trying to make sense of the April 15 Boston bombings and how two young ethnic Chechen immigrants were seemingly drawn to terror. Just how the country should respond is a question that looms large.
From some corners, the result has been an uptick in Islamophobic rhetoric. Others, meanwhile, are countering with messages of inclusivity.
Erik Rush was among the first of several conservative commentators who drew criticism for their reactions.
In the hours following the attack, days before the suspects' identities were revealed, he implied in a tweet that the perpetrator was from Saudi Arabia. A Saudi national had been declared a "person of interest" by authorities in the immediate aftermath of the bombing but was soon cleared.
When asked by another Twitter user if Rush was automatically blaming a Muslim, he responded, "Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all."
He later said he was being sarcastic.
On April 22, one week after the bombings, former U.S. Congressman Joe Walsh (Republican-Illinois) told the news channel MSNBC that "we're at war, and this country got a stark reminder last week again that we're at war. Not only should we take a pause when it comes to our immigration, we need to begin profiling who our enemy is in this war: young Muslim men."
After the attacks on September 11, 2001 the New York Police Department conducted surveillance of entire Muslim neighborhoods. The FBI also implemented intelligence-gathering operations targeting Muslim and other ethnic communities.
Critics branded those programs unconstitutional, while authorities said they were acting under national-security provisions.
On April 23 Bob Beckel, a host on the right-leaning Fox News network, said: "I think we really have to consider...that we're going to have to cut off Muslim students from coming to this country for some period of time so that we can at least absorb what we've got, look at what we've got, and decide whether some of the people here should be sent back home or sent to prison."
On April 26, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican-California) chaired a hearing in the House Foreign Affairs Committee titled "Islamist Extremism in Chechnya: A Threat to the U.S. Homeland?" In his concluding statement, he said, "I hope we all work together against a religion that will motivate people to murder children."
'There Has Been A Pattern'
While vocally condemning the attack, several Muslim-American organizations have also decried the spike in Islamophobic sentiment and the scattered reports of verbal or physical intimidation of Muslims that have followed.
Nasser Weddady is the civil rights outreach director at the Boston-based American Islamic Congress, which advocates interfaith understanding and human rights. He says the uptick in rhetoric follows a pattern that U.S. Muslims have had to live with since September 11, 2001.
"Ever since [then], yes, there has been a pattern," Weddady says. "Whenever events [occur] involving terrorism or, at times, Muslim perpetrators, there is a backlash and there's a rise [in Islamophobia]. It's not ad hoc or spontaneous, because there are some quarters that have been clearly trying to paint all Muslims as potential terrorists -- and it's generally these quarters that contribute to the rise of that feeling."
But Weddady also says he has received "a supportive tidal wave that is coming from civic groups, from ordinary citizens, and also from government officials in recent days."
"Based on the reactions I got from speaking at the interfaith service last week here in Boston, I believe greatly that most Americans are making the distinction between individuals and whole communities," he says. "They realize that ultimately, bomb shrapnel does not discriminate."
At the April 18 service, U.S. President Barack Obama offered a similar message.
"In the face of cruelty...we’ll choose friendship, we’ll choose love," he said.
Several more interfaith services and events celebrating the diversity of Boston are scheduled in the coming weeks.
Messages Of Support
Almut Rochowanski, the co-founder of the New York-based Chechnya Advocacy Network
, a volunteer group that works with Chechen-Americans, says she has received messages of support following the bombing and decided to share them online.
"There was an article in 'The New York Times'
about how Chechens in the U.S. feel and a handful of people started writing [to us] with messages saying, 'We're Americans and we are your friends. Don't be afraid. We want to meet you. We welcome you to our country,'" Rochowanski says. "Because I knew how Chechens [in the United States] and in Chechnya -- how they recoiled from what had happened and how embarrassed and ashamed they were -- I put a Facebook group
together and I said, 'Look, that's how Americans are reacting.' A lot of Chechens responded very positively to that."
One Arab-American who requested anonymity offered this conclusion to RFE/RL: "I think every terror attack since 9/11 has been a test for this country's tolerance, and I understand that," he said. "This time is no different, and some do better than others."