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Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

My political thought of the day:

The latest reports on the Boston Marathon bombers are pointing to Dzhokzhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, two Russian Chechnyans who were in America on a student visa. Which means, assuming these reports are right (and they do seem pretty solid), it’s time for a big mea culpa on my part.

I saw that this happened on Tax Day and in Boston, and suspected a connection to American homegrown terrorists, folks that were virulently anti-government and especially anti-tax. Then I saw those surveillance photos and saw they were caucasians, and grew even more sure I was right about this. I made one passing reference to this theory, but for the most part I stayed quiet and waited to be prove right. I didn’t want to spread bad information and guesses as facts or pile on the feed-our-need-to-know NOW trend. But I had the theory, definitely. It just seemed so obvious, and so obviously true.

Assuming these people really are the bombers, this incident is a call for me to be a bit more skeptical, a bit more careful, and a bit slower to rely on stereotypes. There are more than two possibilities in cases like this, and “international terrorist” doesn’t always mean Arab or Muslim. A lot of times things don’t divide up along the lines we’re used to seeing.

I’m mentioning this partly to keep myself humble, but also because I see a lot of the kind of thinking I’m trying to avoid here on FB. The most recent example is probably the many memes I’ve seen condemning those Senators who voted against the background check amendment. There was a real assumption that the world broke down into the true heroes who stood up for a way to fight gun violence, and the cowards or worse who voted against the move. I wish we’d passed the law, too, but that kind of thinking never has sat well with me. I think it relies on the kind of thinking that led me astray here. A Democratic Senator anywhere in the country must took and act like the Democratic Senator of my experience, meaning the Democratic Senator of my region or the national leaders.An international terrorist must look like the international terrorists of my imagination – and if they don’t I must imagine a whole other category to put them in.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: reality is much more nuanced than our preconceptions of how things *should* turn out. It’s worth keeping that in mind when reacting to political situations.

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
mrowe
Apr. 19th, 2013 01:15 pm (UTC)
Well, you were right about this bit: "Then I saw those surveillance photos and saw they were caucasians" About as Caucasian as you can get, in fact... [/flippant]
marta_bee
Apr. 19th, 2013 04:32 pm (UTC)
That made me laugh out loud, Nath, because in America Caucasian just means "white guy." Somehow I suspect there are Americans who have a hard time thinking of Russians as Caucasian (they generally have people coming out of NW Europe in mind), but really, no other description could be more accurate, at a literal level at least...
mrowe
Apr. 19th, 2013 04:50 pm (UTC)
Nothing like a good pun *g*

Actually, I was initially thinking of some form of homegrown, antigovernment group/individual as well. Just goes to show...
dreamflower02
Apr. 19th, 2013 03:38 pm (UTC)
Reminds me of the knee-jerk reactions to the Murrow bombing (18 years ago today) when everyone initially thought "Muslim terrorists" (and this was BEFORE 9/11) and then it turned out to be homegrown nut jobs Tim McVeigh and his cohorts.

I will say that my presumptions of "home-grown" THIS time around wasn't political jumping-to-conclusions, but faulty logic: usually "Muslim terrorists" quickly jump to claim credit for their acts of terror often within less than an hour of the event, and so when no one claimed credit for the bombing, my mind went straight to someone like McVeigh. I jumped to that conclusion before I ever saw the pictures, and the pictures made me sure of it.

Clearly I was wrong as well. Just for different reasons.
marta_bee
Apr. 19th, 2013 04:42 pm (UTC)
Interesting side-note: it looks like the family is Muslim but not Arab. That may fry a few brains in certain parts of the American political culture - that the criminals could be both white and ethnically European, but that they're still Muslim terrorists.

I at first was puzzled by the lack of note, but then heard a news piece chalking that up to the possibility that this was a terrorist influenced by one of the big groups but not linked to it - a hanger-oner who read their magazines and heard their rhetoric, was fired up but not driven to claim credit. BUt I could see how that could make you think that!
phyloxena
Apr. 19th, 2013 04:56 pm (UTC)
Chechens are Muslims, and those radicalized are radicalized by a Saudi Vahhabi influence. These guys don't represent Russia in any way (I wouldn't put instigating provocation past some Russian agency, but that's beside the point) - it is Vahhabi or independent Chechnya. Still same brand of international terrorism.
dwimordene_2011
Apr. 19th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC)
Another political thought
I was just looking for decent, unsensationalized news updates on the situation in Boston, and found this illuminating article.

Of note: The government official who provided details of his agency’s count of IED attacks in the United States said there’d been 31 in March, 23 in February and 31 in January, though none as deadly or as high-profile as what occurred in Boston. According to the official, Afghanistan suffered far more IED attacks than any other nation but the United States had more such attacks than Israel, Somalia or Yemen. In fact, the United States trailed only Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, India and Syria in the sheer number of IEDs over the past six months.

Pretty amazing stats, I think, and not what the newspapers and television shows are reporting; even NYT's article on bombings that seem to be politically motivated obscures the fact that these other bombings, which may or may not be politically motivated, are far more common than we are led to believe. What's going on, such that IEDs are so popular here, and why don't we call these attacks on Americans "terrorist"? I mean, they clearly do aim to harm Americans, and I'm sure they're terrifying even if no one dies, and yet, we don't talk about this disturbing pattern and record, or sensationalize it beyond local media attention. We don't discuss the fact that it doesn't necessarily take a political or religious motivation to set off mass destruction devices.

But even more terrifying to me is the report on what the White House has to say about the domestic IED threat: “IEDs remain one of the most accessible weapons available to terrorists and criminals to damage critical infrastructure and inflict casualties,” the White House report said.

“To better meet the IED threat at home, we will seek to incorporate lessons learned abroad,” it added.


Given what we're doing abroad to provoke IED attacks, this is hardly a reassuring claim, especially coming from the top tiers of political life.
marta_bee
Apr. 19th, 2013 10:53 pm (UTC)
Re: Another political thought
Yeah, the thought of lessons learned in Iraq being brought to bear at home doesn't exactly give me the warm fuzzies. It would be seriously depressing, if I wasn't (a) already used to being depressed over the way we carry out war, and fighting to change that, and (b) just a little too worn out from RL to feel anything other than tired. I got a new bed delivered today and spent an hour rotating furniture in the bedroom.

Anyway, this is worth keeping in mind. Sometimes I think the way we glorify war uncriticially just sets us up for both the attacks that justify a police state and develop the tactics that make it possible.

I did sit up and take notice when some news story or other referred to "a veritable army of policemen" trying to capture the other suspected bomber. That phrase is a little too apt for my taste.
dwimordene_2011
Apr. 20th, 2013 02:13 am (UTC)
Re: Another political thought
Sometimes I think the way we glorify war uncriticially just sets us up for both the attacks that justify a police state and develop the tactics that make it possible.

I guess my question is: do you see any really compelling evidence that that isn't exactly the ideology that the media is given every incentive to promote by corporate elites and their government?

marta_bee
Apr. 20th, 2013 03:17 am (UTC)
Re: Another political thought
I do agree that the government has an agenda and that the press is more or less complicit in that whole program. I mean, what government wouldn't want to be able to go to war and have an "independent" (perceived independent, not actually independent) group telling them the things they were concerned about weren't really so bad. Governments were always going to want that and push for it.

What has changed is that journalism no longer has an incentive to really be independent. In this country at least, we're more interested in seeing someone who sounds smart and is well-respected agree with us. (By "we" I mean Americans generally, not you and me.) So news becomes less about saying the truth and more about saying what people want to hear. Since there's a real benefit toward keeping your part of the American political scene happy with you (they'll come back on your show, give you access, etc.) and no real incentive to speaking truth to power, you get a press that's more than happy to go along with the party line, with fairly few exceptions. That's the real change, and that's where I think the fault lies. I mean, sure, say that governments shouldn't be throwing their weight around, but that isn't a new problem. What is new is that the press isn't pushing back.
dwimordene_2011
Apr. 20th, 2013 03:48 am (UTC)
Re: Another political thought
Okay, so in other words, there's no reason to think the media has any reason to be independent on the most significant issues of public life.

But I think your assessment of how that has come about is not coherent:

What has changed is that journalism no longer has an incentive to really be independent. In this country at least, we're more interested in seeing someone who sounds smart and is well-respected agree with us. (By "we" I mean Americans generally, not you and me.) So news becomes less about saying the truth and more about saying what people want to hear

This part says it's the American consumer base "generally" that's to blame for a change in journalistic behavior, because our tastes are so warped and in control of our reason, that we refuse to consume anything but reports that pander to our tastes.

So news becomes less about saying the truth and more about saying what people want to hear. Since there's a real benefit toward keeping your part of the American political scene happy with you (they'll come back on your show, give you access, etc.) [...] I mean, sure, say that governments shouldn't be throwing their weight around, but that isn't a new problem. What is new is that the press isn't pushing back.

Then there's this part, which suggests that the people with the power to offer incentives to media = government and political elites.

Those explanations assume different things about how incentives are set, by whom, and for what purposes.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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