It’s been a weird few days, hasn’t it?
Every time a new atrocity occurs it acts as a stark reminder about just how rapidly the news and media landscape is changing. On 9/11 we were watching streaming video in the office (the only place with a fast enough connection) and helping people check on friends and relatives by connecting over IM and IRC.
Madrid and the 7/7 bombings in London were transformed by the prevalence of cellphone video and images and places like Moblog became hugely important in working out what was going on and seeing what was occurring.
Now in 2013 – which always seemed like the distant future to me growing up – we have an atrocity at a marathon caught on multiple (civilian!) cameras from multiple angles, online vigilantes and the news media being totally outstripped by Twitter, Facebook and so on despite throwing aside their advantage (authority and objectivity) in a desperate attempt to keep up with the pace.
Speculation early on was, of course, about the brown faces in the crowd and that could have potentially gotten very dangerous. In a bizarre twist however, it turned out that the bombers were, quite literally Caucasian. It did, of course, also turn out that they were Muslim but I’m sure the concept of a white Muslim has someone like Ann Coulter’s head exploding in incomprehension.
There’s a couple of things I found particularly interesting and timely in the speculation we saw going on, things I hadn’t seen before.
- Some people were trying to pin the blame for the bombing on atheists, rather than religious or political fanaticism.
- Only very recently Harris, Dawkins etc have been coming under fire under the presumption that questioning Islam is racism.
Number 1 is interesting in that it shows that the rise of atheism (or more accurately the decline of theism) has some people spooked and many of them don’t know what atheism actually is.
Number two is a godsend (ha, ha) for those of us repeatedly making the point that having a problem with Islam is a matter of the religion and what it says, encourages and inspires. It’s not having a problem with Arabs, Pakistanis or whatever other ethnicities are most strongly linked with Islam. Here we have the perfect example to counter that argument. Two white Islamic terrorists.
Is it fair to blame Islam?
Yes, I think it is. The older brother at least seems to have been pious and increasingly militant and while the younger brother was a drinker he seems to have been caught in his brother’s shadow and tugged along by the weight of his growing fanaticism. Various excuses are already being made to try and distance the brother’s actions from their religion and amongst these is the suggestion of ‘white privilege’ that white mass murderers and terrorists, like, say Tim McVeigh, are not seen as part of a movement as a problem, but as individuals.
That is not entirely true. American gun culture, right wing paranoia, conspiracy theory, distrust of government and fanatically extreme individualism and Christianity have played a big role in a lot of American domestic terrorism and massacres and quite rightly this toxic mix should be held to blame for inspiring those individuals. It is much less of a unified belief system and set of grudges than Islamic fundamentalists have but it is there. Of course there are also violent individuals, sometimes working together as in Columbine, perhaps the event that most closely mirrors Boston in many ways. Those events are individual though, they are not unified by anything more than disaffection, mental illness and isolation.
Moderate Muslims will say that the religion does not condone the killing of civilians or excuse violence and they are to be applauded for exercising their own personal morality to reject the morality present in the Koran, but the fact remains that it is full of passages that speak to violence, particularly against non-believers and that it has inspired much of the terrible violence in this century in the same way political ideology did in the 20th (both are articles of faith).
It is not racist to criticise and to honestly examine Islam any more than it is to criticise and honestly examine Christianity. One seems to be inspiring violence on a global level and even on the Christian side of the aisle one sees ‘Crusader’ rhetoric in the war against terror and a similar level of extremism leading to attacks on abortion doctors.
Faith provides the capacity for a level of fanaticism in religion (and ideology) that makes appalling actions seem justified, excusable, even correct. It is worth taking a stand against that way of thinking, both in Islam and more generally.