Race, Religion and Terrorism in the Wake Of Boston

Race, Religion and Terrorism in the Wake Of Boston



In the aftermath of the horrific situation in Boston on Monday, all eyes turn to the ultimate question: who did this?

No groups have claimed responsibility yet, so if it was a terrorist organization we probably would have known by now, especially given the number of amputations that occurred. I can’t find anything official, but the last numbers I read were between 20 and 30.

So, was this a lone wolf? Some signs seem to be pointing that way…

The devices used in the Boston Marathon attack Monday are typical of the “lone wolf:” the solo terrorist who builds a bomb on his own by following a widely available formula.

In this case, the formula seems very similar to one that al Qaeda has recommended to its supporters around the world as both crudely effective and difficult to trace. But it is also a recipe that has been adopted by extreme right-wing individuals in the United States.

The threat of the “lone wolf” alarms the intelligence community.

“This is what you worry about the most,” a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN’s Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. “No trail, no intelligence.”

Long story short, if you wanted to go out and build a device like the ones used in Boston, you could do that…today.

However, this doesn’t point away from al Qaeda. It also doesn’t point away from right-wing extremists either. The terrorist(s) used what is known as a “low-velocity improvised explosive mixture” and could be made with ingredients you find in common fireworks. Ultimately what this means is we’ll be lucky if we can find out where these components came from. There’s likely no discernible trail here.

So that leads us to the next question: if we do catch the terrorist(s)…what will be done? And that leads us into an article posted on Salon yesterday entitled “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.”

A provocative title, yes, but the essay points out a valid concern for those of us interested in making sure our “war” on terrorism produces as few collateral damage casualties as possible.

Case in point…

Though FBI data show fewer terrorist plots involving Muslims than terrorist plots involving non-Muslims, America has mobilized a full-on war effort exclusively against the prospect of Islamic terrorism. Indeed, the moniker “War on Terrorism” has come to specifically mean “War on Islamic Terrorism,” involving everything from new laws like the Patriot Act, to a new torture regime, to new federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to mass surveillance of Muslim communities.

By contrast, even though America has seen a consistent barrage of attacks from domestic non-Islamic terrorists, the privilege and double standards baked into our national security ideologies means those attacks have resulted in no systemic action of the scope marshaled against foreign terrorists. In fact, it has been quite the opposite — according to Darryl Johnson, the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, the conservative movement backlash to merely reporting the rising threat of such domestic terrorism resulted in DHS seriously curtailing its initiatives against that particular threat. (Irony alert: When it comes specifically to fighting white non-Muslim domestic terrorists, the right seems to now support the very doctrine it criticized Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for articulating — the doctrine that sees fighting terrorism as primarily “an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort” and not something more systemic.)

Do we, as Americans, seem to ignore the threats inside our own borders by our own citizens because those terrorists look like us, talk like us and go to the same churches as us?

Another salient point…

“White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation,” writes author Tim Wise. “White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”

As always, your thoughts are welcome and appreciated.

  • cranky critter

    The implication of the “hope he’s white” article is that while one subset of Americans can be expected to respond with intelligence, understanding, and restraint, another subset cannot. I for one am looking for better perspectives than that.

  • BrandoninKS

    I take issue with the tone and insinuations of this article, since it represents a clear bias and agenda on behalf of the author and a tone-deaf political correctness. Domestic incidents of terrorism are not unknown, and they are not just of the right-wing variety (ever hear of the Weather Underground, Students for a Democratic Society, the May 19 organization, and the Earth Liberation Front?)

    And when was the last time a Catholic in the United States committed a bombing with his faith as the prime motivation? Even the abortion clinic bombings throughout the 90s did not have a common thread to them – most of the perpetrators did not belong to mainline churches, Protestant or Catholic and were not following directives from a larger organization. Hence, they were lone wolves.

    The fact of the matter is that the danger from Islamic terrorists inspired by Al Qaeda is higher and more real due to the network and propagation of this ideology all over the world, and the hundreds of thousands (if not more) of adherents. Here is a simple breakdown of the Islamist/Al Qaeda-inspired terror attacks planned in the U.S. since 9/11 that were foiled by our government:

    1. Shoe Bomber – 12/2001
    2. Jose Padilla, dirty bomb – 5/2002
    3. 6 Yeminis running Al Qaeda cell in Buffalo, NY – 9/2002
    4. Attempted plot to blow up NY Stock Exchange – 8/2004
    5. 2 men arrested for plot to blow up NYC Subway during 2004 RNC – 8/2004
    6. Arrests of Islamic gang members planning to blow up LA area synagogues, military bases – 8/2005
    7. Group arrested for plot to blow up the Sears tower in Chicago – 6/2006
    8. Terrorists arrested for plot to blow up NYC train tunnels & flood financial district – 7/2006
    9. 6 men arrested for planning attack on Fort Dix, NJ – 5/2007
    10. Plot to bomb JFK Airport – 6/2007
    11. Plot to blow up 2 synagogues & shoot down military aircraft in NY – 5/2009
    12. Al Qaeda-trained Afghan native in CO arrested for plotting to blow up NYC subway system – 9/2009
    13. Islamic militant arrested after planning to blow up Dallas skyscraper – 9/2009
    14. Terrorist who planned to use Northwest Air plane to attack Detroit – subdued by passengers – 12/2009
    15. Attempted Times Square bombing by Pakistani national – 5/2010
    16. Suspect cased out DC area metro stations for Al Qaeda directed bombing – 10/2010
    17. Planned attack on U.S. Capitol & Pentagon by Bangladeshi national with remote bombs and IEDs – 9/2011
    18. Attempted attack on sites throughout Tampa by Kosovo Islamic extremist – 1/2012
    19. Moroccan man arrested for plotting to blow up U.S. Capitol – 2/2012
    20. Bangladeshi man charged with attempt to blow up Federal Reserve in NYC, he thought he was acting on orders from Al Qaeda – 10/2012

    So which threat is greater? Those motivated by Al Qaeda and an extreme religious ideology or all of the domestic threats combined?

  • Tully

    I would think that once you hit “extremist ideology” the rest of the qualifiers become kind of redundant. Or even “extremist.”

  • Tully

    Oh, and Sirota has clearly demonstrated he is an ideologue asshat.

  • Angela

    Watching the news tonight. Okay, the suspects are white and of Russian descent. Doesn’t matter. There is a larger issue here that needs to be addressed regarding young white males. Profiling has already begun on white males in colleges and schools across the country. Officials are being trained on what to look for and what the warning signs are for a “lone wolf”. We don’t call it profiling, of course, when white males are the target. So perhaps its not that we are less punitive societally toward “lone wolf” criminals who perpetrate mass murders who happen to be white (and male). Perhaps its that we do not give as much weight to racially motivated biases when the targets of such bias are white. Profiling of extreme right-wingers exists as well. But again, racial biases go unnoticed for the most part.

  • http://www.agoyandhisblog.com goy

    OMFG! Are you STILL peddling this risible, baseless, pseudo-centrist bullsh!t disguised as a “moderate” viewpoint, Justin? No doubt you’re working on your next article to “empathize” with the terrorist, right?


    Shilling for self-loathing worms like Sirota, and the “white privilege” idiocy he and his ilk profess is nothing short of support for a socially suicidal ideology. That ideology is, in the long run, no less destructive of this Republic and its soul than outright terrorism-in-fact. That you continue to fail to see this after all this time is remarkable, given how long you’ve been at this.

    Friday – which demonstrated that the devices used were NOT sufficient information on which to base this sort of idiotic “lone wolf” propaganda – should have been a teachable moment. But the left – and that includes you – insist on assuming that it’s still “just as likely” that terrorism like this is perpetrated by right-wing extremists as islamist jihadis, all actual evidence to the contrary.

    I guess teachable moments require actual, teachable PEOPLE to have any impact.

    Grow. The. [email protected] Up.

  • http://www.donklephant.com Justin Gardner

    Goy, appreciate the attacks. They always make me understand why we need a place like this to talk about issues is a civilized, diverse manner.

  • Tully

    But Justin, didn’t you know that if you put extra adjectives, invective, insults, and derision in an argument it becomes MORE TRUE? 😉

  • Angela

    Justin, is it possible that the F.B.I. profiles whites, tracks people who buy a certain genre of games, or music, or attends certain concerts. Is is possible the F.B.I. profiles and tracks certain people who are considered to have radical or extreme political beliefs or gather at meetings and conferences where the topic is not acceptable in the main stream.

    I don’t condone profiling, or violation of privacy, and I certainly don’t want to live in a Big Brother society. Neither do many American Muslims, and most Americans for that matter. The methods used by those who are supposed to protect us, the F.B.I., homeland security, and the like, should not violate the very rights and freedoms they’re trying to protect. Its something that we as Americans need to stay mindful of.

    But please, don’t be mislead into thinking that the agencies given the responsibility to protect our lives and keep us safe, are discriminate in the methods they employ. Its not a race issue. That you see it as a race issue, speaks more to your personal race perception. Its a democracy issue. These agencies do some things right and very well, but as with all government entities, there are flaws and they need to be held accountable.

  • http://chicagoboyz.net TMLutas

    The problem with Islam isn’t that it’s foreign or muslims have a natural propensity towards violence. The problem is that they have a judicial system that has no sense of national jurisdiction and an enforcement arm of any muslim that feels like enforcing a religious court’s judiciary at any particular time.

    In the US we have a mostly reasonable approach to private judicial processes. So long as you aren’t doling out physical punishments, you can have all sorts of nonstandard private judiciaries. Most religions have them. But once you start beating people, or even cutting their beards (see the recent amish case), the state intervenes to stop it. The muslim judiciary poses a unique challenge because of those two features I outlined above and we are not dealing with the issue as we do with other private judiciaries gone wrong. That’s discriminatory but understandable because the standard we impose on other private judiciaries, if applied even handedly to the muslims, is going to look like a religious war to an awful lot of them.

    So we’ve been kicking the can down the road and nobody really wants to touch this seriously. The right wing instinctively gets it but isn’t systematically dealing with it. The left seems to be averse to even touching the problem and is in deep denial.