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16 April 2013

Defining Civic Values after a Tragedy

I always get nervous after acts of terrorism. Ironically, however, I am more worried about the irrational acts of hatred and "retaliation" that will likely follow than about secondary acts of terrorism (as if hate-filled and retaliatory acts are not terroristic). The Department of Homeland Security has the "If You See Something, Say Something" Campaign. Their website notes twice:
Factors such as race, ethnicity, national origin, or religious affiliation alone are not suspicious [emphasis added].
Why is the word "alone" necessary? Is that to say race, ethnicity, national origin, and religious affiliation could become significant when included with other information? It's not OK for me to be suspicious of a man because he is black alone, but what if he is black and is walking through an upscale gated community? It's not OK for me to be suspicious of a woman because she is Latina alone, but what if she is Latina and she is in the queue at a voting precinct? It's not OK for me to be suspicious of a woman because her parents emigrated from Egypt alone, but what if she is Egyptian-American and is applying for a job at the State Department? It's not OK for me to be suspicious of a man who prays to Allah alone, but what if he is Muslim and he is waiting to board my airplane?

Already, this seems to have been an issue. The New York Times reports:
It was unclear Monday evening who might be responsible for the blast. Although investigators said that they were speaking to a Saudi citizen who was injured in the blast, several law enforcement officials took pains to note that no one was in custody.
Officials stressed that they had no suspects in the attack. The Saudi man, who was interviewed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, had been seen running from the scene of the first explosion, a person briefed on preliminary developments in the investigation said on Monday afternoon. A law enforcement official said later Monday that the man, was in the United States on a student visa and came under scrutiny because of his injuries, his proximity to the blasts and his nationality — but added that he was not known to federal authorities and that his role in the attack, if any, was unclear.
I heard early reports on television yesterday that the person in custody, presumably the Saudi man, had been chased down and tackled by a bystander as we was fleeing in the immediate aftermath of the initial explosion, a quite reasonable reaction shared by virtually everyone in the vicinity. The man, you see, was not suspicious because he looked Arab alone; he was suspicious for being Arab and running.

In these times of heightened tension, anger, and fear, we must exercise heightened vigilance not to those around us alone (i.e. the "other") but also to ourselves as well. If you see something, say something. Indeed. That includes acts of hate, prejudice, and racism.

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