Ten years ago, living in a village in rural Nepal, I learned that a pressure cooker could kill. Instead of explosives, nails, and ball bearings, this accidental bomb was filled with a Nepali family’s dinner. The safety features malfunctioned and with no way to release the pressure, the pot exploded into shrapnel and claimed one mother’s life.
Though accidental explosions are rare, they are frequent enough that the Nepalese Maoists, who were on the US global terror list until late last year, took notice. And then they took to building bombs out of them.
The civil war, and more specifically a direct attack on an American compound in Kathmandu, led to the suspension of the Peace Corps program in Nepal. When I boarded the plane home, my heart pumped a complicated mix of emotions through my veins.
Those feelings resurfaced when the joy of a Boston Marathon finish line exploded into a pressure-cooked bloodbath.
The names of the bombers contain letter combinations that are hard for my native English tongue to pronounce. I prefer it that way. In refusing to learn their names, I refuse to dignify their memory.
Instead, I will learn how to say Lu Lingzi. I will remember that Krystle Campbell’s parents chose a unique spelling for their daughter’s name. I will remember Martin Richard’s name. I can never forget his age.
But to me, the bombers will remain Suspect 1 and Suspect 2.
I won’t call them the Chechen brothers. Or the Bombers from Kyrgyzstan. Or the Muslim terrorists. No, to do so would dishonor an entire ethnicity, an entire nation, and an entire religion.
They have no ideology in common with my Muslim friends or the vast majority of the Muslims living in my country. Living in any country. Nothing in common with my girlfriend in Turkey, the first to contact me and inquire about my safety when she heard about the attack. Nothing in common with the young couple in Brunei who, after a chance meeting in the night market, cancelled their weekend plans and toured me—one of the few Americans they had ever met—around their city. Nothing in common with my classmates from Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Orange County, and New York City. These people are Muslims. Suspects 1 and 2 are terrorists.
Like other terrorists, Suspects 1 and 2 want us to fear all Muslims.
If we fear the hijab, if we marginalize based on surnames, based on ancestry, based on skin color, then they win.
In the hours and days following the attack, thousands tweeted and shared a phrase meant to comfort the running community:
If you’re trying to defeat the human spirit, marathoners are the wrong group to target.
It’s sweet. It’s triumphant. But it misses the mark.
The attack wasn’t meant to terrorize runners. It was meant to scare the hell out of all Americans. The bombers want us to cower in the face of Islam. And if we inch away from the brown-skinned man on the metro, and shift uncomfortably in the company of our hijab-wearing sisters, then we hand victory to the terrorists.
The best thing we as Americans can do to ensure that the Boston bombers are not the victors is to judge them for the atrocity they committed and not for the religion they claim to represent.
Want to read more?
Here are some of the more enlightening articles and interviews I have found since the Boston attack:
The Wrong Kind of Causasian by Sarah Kendzior
Boston Explosions: “Please don’t be Arabs or Muslims” by Khaled A. Beydoun
The Irony of Muslim Terrorism by Mohamed Guilan
The interview with David Rohde, a reporter held captive by the Taliban for seven months.
What more can do you?
Learn about Islam. Attend talks on Islam by scholars on the local university’s campus. Travel to Muslim-majority countries. Foster friendships with Muslims in your community, not because they are Muslims, but because they are members of your community.