The word “terrorism” is synonymous with “Middle Eastern” in this country, so much so that Arabs and Muslims faced harassment and assault even before any details about potential Boston Marathon bombing suspects were published.
Heba Abolaban, a Palestinian woman in Malden, Massachussets, was walking with her friend this afternoon (both were wearing hijabs and strolling their babies) when she was attacked by an angry man who blamed Muslims for the Boston bombings. The Malden Patch reports that the man “forcefully punched her left shoulder and began shouting at them.”
“He was screaming ‘F___ you Muslims! You are terrorists! I hate you! You are involved in the Boston explosions! F___ you!’” Abolaban remembered. “Oh my lord, I was extremely shocked.”
She said the man – described as a white male in his thirties wearing dark sunglasses – kept shouting and walking toward her as she backed away.
“I did not say anything to him,” she said. “Not even that we aren’t terrorists…he was so aggressive.”
After about two minutes, Abolaban said the man continued his brisk walk toward Malden Center. Shaken, Abolaban called her husband in tears, and then 911.
“The police came and were so kind and helpful,” she said, though no suspects were arrested in the incident.
In other hate-filled news, 30-year-old Abdullah Faruque, a Bangladeshi-American, was beaten nearly unconscious outside of an Applebee’s in the Bronx after being mistaken for an Arab by a group of men who blamed Arabs for the the bombings.
In an even more ironic twist, this story was reported by none other than the New York Post, the same outlet which in the immediate aftermath of the bombings falsely reported that a Saudi victim was being held as a suspect. The beating is reportedly being investigated by the NYPD Hate Crimes Unit.
As many of you have probably heard by now, the Saudi national they were referring to is a university student who was watching the marathon. chased and tackled by a bystander who found it “suspicious” that the seriously injured young man was running away from the explosion. So even in the minutes after the blast, before the media had an opportunity to fear monger about the ethnicity of the perpetrator(s), a man with the wrong skin color was deemed “suspicious” for doing the only logical thing after a bombing: run. What makes matters worse is that local and federal law enforcement, with absolutely no evidence to go on, spent hours ransacking the young man’s apartment as he laid in a hospital bed where he spent the day being interrogated while trying to recover from his injuries.
Now that the FBI has released pictures and video of two racially ambiguous suspects (though they look white to me), chatter about jihadists, Islamists and Al-Qaeda has come to a sudden halt on the mainstream cable news channels, which spent all week interviewing one “terrorism expert” after another to speculate about their pre-conceived, typically bigoted notions, about who did this. The suspects have repeatedly been referred to as “ice-cold-blooded murderers” and “mass murderers” on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, who up until the pictures were released was content calling who he suspected were Arabs and/or Muslim perpetrators “terrorists”.
Now that the culprit could potentially be two white dudes dressed in what can only be described as bro attire, the ethnic finger pointing has all but disappeared because in America, people of color are collectively held responsible for crimes committed by individuals who share their skin tone. As for Arabs and Muslims, the blame will always fall on us until a suspect has been found. In other words, guilty until proven innocent.
UPDATE: I know I’m a bit late to this story but it still warrants mention. It seems the New York Post has once again accused a person of color of committing the Boston Marathon bombings, this time splashing a picture of 17-year-old Salah Eddin Barhoum and his friend Yassine Zaime across the front page of this today’s paper with the headline, “Bag men: Feds seek these two pictured at Boston Marathon“. The photo was was initially posted on the internet by users (more like self-proclaimed investigators) searching for suspects in images from the Boston Marathon finish line.
The Post later clarified that the young men were completely innocent, but never apologized. Instead, the Post defended their actions in a statement, saying, ‘We stand by our story. The image was emailed to law enforcement agencies yesterday afternoon seeking information about these men, as our story reported. We did not identify them as suspects.”
Barhoum, who spoke with Associated Press, was traumatized:
Barhoum, a track runner at Revere High School, said he is convinced some will blame him for the bombings, no matter what.
He was so fearful on Thursday that he ran back to the high school after a track meet when he saw a man in a car staring at him, talking into a phone, he said.
Barhoum added he received more than 200 messages online Wednesday, with one commenter from Oregon asking: “How could you do that? Did you even think about the consequences?”
Barhoum said he won’t feel safe until the bombers are caught.
“I’m going to be scared going to school,” Barhoum said. “Workwise, my family, everything is going to be scary.”
The Post has shown journalistic malpractice on several occasions but this latest tabloid-esque episode put a child’s life in danger by portraying him as the most wanted person in America right now. The poor kid could have easily been jumped or worse killed by vengeful vigilantes. And he wasn’t the only one affected:
Barhoum’s father, El Houssein Barhoum, who moved his family from Morocco five years ago, said he is worried his son will be shot and fears for his wife and two young daughters. He said he can’t go to his job as a baker in Boston.
“Right now, we are not secure,” he said. “So, the news (media), when they put something, they should be sure about the information.”
Barhoum understands exactly why he was viewed as a suspect by online vigilantes and the Post.
Barhoum said there are only two reasons he’s been labeled a suspect: his bag and his brown skin.
Smart kid. How unfortunate that he lives in a nation that treats young men of color as criminals, and more specifically young Arab men as terrorists. I know I’m not alone when I say that Barhoum and his friend deserve an apology.