There are other troubling aspects of the Daily News story that reflect an unobjective skepticism of Arab and Muslim people. Despite starting off with “He didn’t do it,” the piece goes on to emphasize that police questioned his roommate for five hours and searched his apartment. It says he never mentioned to his roommate he was going to the marathon. Without context, the piece implies that these things should call into question the police statement that he’s only a witness. It also says he “spoke excellent English,” as if that matters.
Why was he interrogated by police at all? The Daily News doesn’t say, but The New Yorker does, in a beautifully acerbic piece by Amy Davidson. The Saudi man, it seems, was injured and running away from the blast, like dozens of others, when a bystander tackled him and handed him over to the police. “We don’t know yet who did this,” Davidson wrote of the bombing.
The bombing could, for all we know, be the work of a Saudi man—or an American or an Icelandic or a person from any nation you can think of. It still won’t mean that this Saudi man can be treated the way he was, or that people who love him might have had to find out that a bomb had hit him when his name popped up on the Web as a suspect in custody. It is at these moments that we need to be most careful, not least.
It is when we do not know that we need to be most careful. Our words in the media have consequences—speculating that Muslims are responsible for the Boston bombs when we don’t know for sure encourages Americans to think of Muslims as being dangerous others, instead of part of America’s fabric. And this leads non-Arab Americans to feel justified in being violent toward Muslims, people of Arab descent, and people who just look like they might be one of those things.
Islamic jihadists have committed grave acts of terror, but all Muslims, all Arabs, aren’t terrorists. Let’s not terrorize those communities by framing stories as if we expect that they are.