When Karen Hunt Ahmed and her Muslim husband divorced four years ago, many friends asked her, “Now you can stop this Islam stuff, right?”
Some friends, she thought.
“Like it was a hobby I took up when I got married and now I’m supposed to drop it,” said Hunt Ahmed, president of the Chicago Islamic Microfinance Project, which she founded with two colleagues in 2009.
Hunt Ahmed, 45, is part of a growing sorority of female American converts to Islam, especially those who are or were married to Muslim men, who must deal with the perception that they converted to Islam because of domineering boyfriends or husbands.
The stereotype was revived in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, when news emerged that the wife of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Katherine Russell, converted to Islam after meeting Tsarnaev in 2009 or 2010 when she was about 21.
The recent explosions at the Boston Marathon and subsequent media coverage exposed yet again a dangerous trend in U.S. culture: rushing to judgment in labeling and prosecuting crimes, and throwing away long-held U.S. American ideals and legal principles of due process.
Terrorism — a form of communication and a military tactic, not an ideology — is the systematic use of violence against civilians to intimidate them for a political purpose. Too many media outlets, elected officials, and community leaders have prematurely labeled the Boston Marathon bombing an act of terrorism. Some people were upset President Obama did not label the acts "terrorism" in his address just hours after the explosions.
Something happened last week and I still can’t shake the funk of it off me. It happened in Boston and Texas; I saw it in Chicago as well, and the week before in Afghanistan. Last Sunday I tried to be a dutiful pastor and make sense of it from the pulpit, but ended up saying that I couldn’t make any sense of it. It wasn’t in what happened but the response. Not that they were making too much out of it — no, these tragedies were tragedies — but that maybe we weren’t making enough of it.
When the smoke of the bombs rescinded, we did what national pride dictates — we put “Boston Strong” all over everything and took up pledges to run the Boston Marathon (the first 10-miler will cause significant reassessment of this showing of national pride) — but we also began a collective process of national mourning and deep reflection, of asking, “How could this have happened?” When we knew nothing of the perpetrators, we asked instead about terrorism and mental illness — root causes (?). We expanded our search, into new territory that resembled 9/11 in some ways, back when we knew nothing and all parties were guilty parties. Accountability was spread wide, including home. This was not a search for a scapegoat but a search for the soul of a nation.
Leading U.S. Catholic bishops on Monday denounced efforts to use the Boston Marathon bombings to derail the push for immigration reform, saying it is wrong to brand all immigrants as dangerous and that a revamped system would in fact make Americans safer.
“Opponents of immigration … will seize on anything, and when you’ve got something as vivid and as recent as the tragedy in Boston it puts another arrow in their quiver,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters.
“To label a whole group of people – namely, the vast population of hard-working, reliable, virtuous immigrants – to label them, to demean them because of the vicious, tragic actions of two people is just ridiculous,” he said. “Illogical. Unfair. Unjust.”
I’m not offering this as consolation to those who have lost someone they love, but as a warning. What’s true of those we love may be just as true of those whom we hate and fear: we become like what we worship, and we worship what we cherish in our hearts.
When people commit monstrous deeds, it is hard not to turn and stare in horror. Think about how hard it is to pull your eyes from the television even when none of the news is new, just the same breathless commentary about what we don’t yet know, what we still don’t understand about the latest act of terror.
When the monsters and their violence become our focus, they grow and become our gods. We’ve become very good at hurting one another, so of course we need to be vigilant. But it’s possible to take our fear too far, to let our natural reaction to sudden violence become a permanent policy of suspicion and terror. Then we are in danger of worshiping our would-be enemies. We don’t worship them joyfully, but we worship them anyway, the way we might worship any vengeful, unstable, wrathful gods: looking over our shoulders and fearing their power. If the best we can come up with is invective against immigrants, suspicion of people unlike us, and perpetually heightened security measures, it starts to look like our hearts are full of fear.
President Barack Obama praised Bostonians for their actions “in the face of evil” during an interfaith memorial service on Thursday for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.
“You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion,” Obama said.
The 90-minute service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross featured local political figures and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley shared a greeting with the congregants from Pope Francis.
“The Holy Father invokes God’s peace upon our dead, consolation upon the suffering and God’s strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response,” O’Malley said.
Obama opened his remarks with Scripture, and quoted it throughout his speech.
Boston residents are waking up this morning to a virtual shutdown of many parts of the city after a contfrontation that left one of the marathon suspects dead, according to reports. An M.I.T. police officer was also killed. From NBC News:
Law enforcement officials said the tumult began just before 11 p.m., when the suspects approached a police officer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and shot him in the head.
The two then stole the officer’s cruiser, robbed a nearby 7-Eleven, carjacked a Mercedes SUV and briefly kidnapped the driver, the sources said. The suspects threw explosives out the window during the chase that followed, they said. A Boston transit police officer was shot and wounded, authorities said.
The dead suspect — the man in the black hat from the FBI photos — had an improvised explosive device strapped to his chest, law enforcement officials said.
The two suspects have been identified as brothers — the one on the run identified as 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
This story is developing.
The National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago has an unusual work of art.
When visitors first enter the museum, they hear a sound like wind chimes coming from above them. Their attention is drawn upward 24 feet to the ceiling of the two-story high atrium.
The metal dog tags of the more than 58,000 service men and women who died in the Vietnam War move and chime with shifting air currents. The 10-by-40-foot sculpture, titled “Above and Beyond” was designed by Ned Broderick and Richard Steinbock.
Family and friends locate the exact dog tag of a loved one as a museum employee uses a laser to point to the tag with the name imprinted on the dog tag, now part of a chorus of wind chimes.
After the horror and tragedy in Boston, our heads have been down. This work of art serves as a reminder to look up to hear the sound of the spirit of goodness, compassion, and creativity that can turn tragedy and death into wind chimes played in silence by the air.