Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Boston narrative

A good and intelligent friend, a person with a fine education, good judgment and a kind heart, sent me this article in the wake of the Boston bombings this week. The tl;dr for the article is that we are predisposed to view and process terroristic acts committed by white folks differently from the way we view and process such acts when committed by people of color. It's a good article that makes a fair point.*

Author Tim Wise supported his article with a long list of white terrorists, illustrating his position that any narrative that paints such folks as anomalies is flawed. But Mr. Wise, it would appear, isn't entirely immune from the power of narrative himself. Because Bill Ayers, Bernadine Dohrn, Howie Macthinger, Ted Klonsky, Terry Robbins, Karen Ashley, John Jacobs, David Gilbert, Ted Gold, etc etc etc are conspicuously absent from his “pantheon of white people who engage in (or have plotted) politically motivated violence meant to terrorize and kill." **

Perhaps these left-wing*** violent radicals aren't on the list because they don't quite fit another narrative – I might better call it a slander – presently so popular in the press.  “We should not, must not, cannot speculate,” the sanctimonious pundit always begins. “But it sure seems possible (or reasonable or likely or evident) that this vile act was committed by someone opposed to the current gun control proposals." Who knew that so many television and radio talking heads were so fit and nimble, so able to leap to far distant conclusions at a single bound? And yet, in the past two days I have heard those words, or similar ones, on NPR, CNN, ABC and NBC with my own ears. 

Now, we all understand that we cannot suggest Islam is inherently dangerous or evil despite the fact that radical Islamists have – motivated by their religion – committed serial acts of terror.  We all, I trust, know that we cannot lump all Muslims together and blame or fear them as a group or individually, simply because they are Muslims and so were those who bombed  the USS Cole, the World Trade Center, embassies in Africa, the Khobar Towers, the London Underground, the Spanish trains and the Bali nightclub, and perpetrated the 9-11 attacks. Even though we know that these attacks were carried out in the name of Islam, we do not hold Muslims collectively responsible for the acts of their misguided or deranged or simply evil coreligionists.

We should not, must not, cannot do this not only because it is wrong – I might better call it a sin – but also because it is not useful. It does us no good. It provides no basis for a policy. It cannot usefully guide our future behavior. It cannot make us safer. So why is it I feel certain that if the Boston bomber does turns out to have ties to any current, so-called "right wing" issue, that same understanding won't apply?

Maybe it’s because the Rahm Emanuel Doctrine ("You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste.")  has been so thoroughly embraced in this country, from the president on down, from MSNBC to Fox News, from the Democrats to the GOP. Maybe it’s because the blood on the streets of Boston had not dried – and I mean that literally – before that act of terror was being hammered into shape so that it would fit into this agenda or that one. No one, it seems, has the least interest in finding out actual facts and then rationally assessing how they might actually inform us.****

It is a shitty, stupid – and ultimately doomed – way to run a society.

* The point isn't a theoretical one – early reporting on the bombing stated that a “Saudi national” was in custody – and although the hapless fellow proved to have nothing to do with the bombing, that story certainly fit comfortably into a lot of preconceived notions and was widely repeated. (The grinning Facebook photo with the golden gun may not have helped.) 

** As Wise proudly notes, Cornell West has described Wise as a “vanilla brother in the tradition of John Brown.” John Brown – considered by plenty of folks to have been a terrorist, however righteous his cause – was also absent from Wise’s list.

*** Interesting, too that, that Ted Kacynski is always included in a list of right wing domestic terrorists – merely because he was white? – when he was actually part of the pantheon of left wing "white people who engage in (or have plotted) politically motivated violence meant to terrorize and kill."

**** For what it is worth, I’ll take the opportunity to point out that everywhere I go, I have a blowout kit with me in the bag I carry and I know how to use everything in it. Traumatic injuries cannot be predicted, but what you do in the first few minutes – particularly with respect to controlling blood loss – can make a real difference even in the most devastating events. People who otherwise would have died this week survived because others on the scene – paramedics and just plain folks – knew how to stop their bleeding. These folks sell an excellent kit, or you can assemble one that meets your particular needs.

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