Muslims see little backlash after Boston bombing

By Rachel Zoll

Associated Press

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 9:25 p.m. MDT

A man reads the Koran on an iPhone during a prayer service at the Islamic Society of Boston mosque, Friday, April 26, 2013, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Associated Press

NEW YORK — It looked like the backlash was starting even before the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing were identified as Muslim.

Hours after the explosions, a Bangladeshi man told police he was dubbed an "Arab" and beaten in New York. A veiled Muslim woman in a city near Boston said she was struck in the shoulder and called a terrorist. When the public learned days later that the FBI was pursuing two Muslim men of Chechen descent, American Muslims feared the worst.

But the worst didn't happen.

Muslim civil rights leaders say the anti-Islam reaction has been more muted this time than after other attacks since Sept. 11, which had sparked outbursts of vandalism, harassment and violence. Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which monitors bias and hate crimes against Muslims, said his organization has seen no uptick in reports of harassment, assaults or damage to mosques since the April 15 bombings. Leaders noted a larger, broader chorus of Americans warning against placing collective blame.

The change may only reflect the circumstances of this particular attack. The two suspects are white and from an area of the world, Russia's turbulent Caucasus region, that unlike the Mideast, Americans know little about. Investigators say Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, and his brother, Dzhokhar, 19, who had lived in the U.S. for about a decade, carried out the bombings, although it's not clear why.

But U.S. Muslims also credit a new generation of leaders in their communities with helping keep tempers in check after the attack. Many are the American-born children of immigrants who saw the impact of the 2001 terror attacks on their faith and have strived ever since to build ties with other Americans.

"There seems to be a much more mature, sophisticated response to this tragedy than in the past 12 years," said Wajahat Ali, 32, an attorney and co-author of "Fear, Inc.," a report by the Center for American Progress on the strategies of anti-Muslim groups in the United States. "We really do see a palpable shift."

No one is suggesting Islam has been fully accepted in the U.S. Activists and commentators who have long considered the religion itself a threat to national security took to the Web and the airwaves to say Boston proved them right. The frantic search for the perpetrators led to some very public misidentifications of Arab or South Asian men that made them potential targets for retribution.

Yet, American Muslim groups — only a decade ago, more inward looking than publicly engaged — pushed back in a more confident way.

As they have after any national tragedy since Sept. 11, Muslim groups issued a flurry of statements condemning the attack, organized blood drives and thanked law enforcement for protecting the country. The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, in the city's Roxbury section, held vigils and formed medical teams to help with the wounded. On his Facebook page, Imam Suhaib Webb, who leads the mosque, posted a black ribbon and banner across his Facebook page with the statement, "We're Bostonians — We mourn with the city."

"I offered my home to house stranded runners, spread information on fundraising for the victims through social media, and attended a candlelight vigil in Harvard Yard," said Zeba Khan, who lives in Cambridge. "That is exactly where I am focusing my attention — on the victims and on the safety of my neighbors and my city."

Non-Muslims echoed the message. Boston Cardinal Sean O'Malley said in his Sunday sermon after the tragedy, "The crimes of the two young men must not be the justification for prejudice against Muslims and against immigrants." Online, a post by comedian and actor Patton Oswalt went viral, calling the attack "beyond religion or creed or nation."

"When you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will,'" Oswalt wrote.

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