by Timothy P. Daniels, The Islamic Monthly, April 22

In the aftermath of a week of mainstream media coverage and elite political figure’s statements related to the Boston Marathon bombing, the ongoing processes of pathologizing Islam and its significance for Pax Americana are made evident. Initial questions about whether this bombing was the work of domestic or foreign terrorists or the work of “lone” wolves quickly turned to claims about Arab individuals, international students, and dark-skinned men with foreign accents as “persons-of-interest” and “suspects.” The specter of dangerous foreign “others” in Boston overshadowed the likely homegrown white-supremacist-Christian terrorism lying behind the eerie fertilizer factory explosion in Waco, Texas close to the 20th anniversary of the FBI massacre of the Branch Davidian “cult.” Fourteen dead, scores injured, and an entire town left demolished; however this devastating event was hurriedly pushed out of the news cycle and political rhetoric without any answers for why this blast occurred. The irrationality of this differential response became even more apparent after the FBI released and posted pictures of two suspected bombers and the subsequent massive military mobilization of forces and technologies to corner, capture, and kill these young men. As their identities as Muslim Chechens became known, the media began to speculate about their links to international terrorism and their presumed religious motives.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented military mobilization of armed units, tanks and helicopters, and declaration of Boston as a No-fly zone culminated in the killing of the older brother and eventual capture of his injured teenage sibling. Although, the apparent lack of organization, exit strategy, and funds suggested to some that they were “lone wolves,” most media began to depict them as brainwashed followers of a “cult”: Islam. In contrast to white-supremacist-Christian terrorists, who whether as “lone” perpetrators or group members, are cast as pathological individuals equipped with a marginal ideology, the Tsarnaev brothers, like others before them, were cast as followers of a pathological religion. As the story goes, first the older brother, Tamerlan became more pious—praying and asking his wife to wear a headscarf—and was brainwashed by Chechen terrorist groups and he in turn indoctrinated his younger brother. In both instances, they are depicted as passive believers in a pathological ideology. These mental representations and fears of “Muslim others,” not only motivated initial speculations, massive mobilizations, violent political rhetoric, and jubilant post-capture celebrations, but also justified the stripping of rights from the arrested Muslim suspect. Dzhokhar, a naturalized US citizen, was not read his Miranda rights with the Obama administration evoking the “public safety exception.” Several US Senators are calling for him to be “legally” categorized as an “enemy combatant.” These misrepresentations of Islam and reproductions of irrational fears of Muslim “others,” also animate excessive acts of violence against, and denials of rights and personhood to, Muslims overseas under Pax Americana.

Timothy P. Daniels is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Hofstra University