The explosions in Boston stirred public opinion and rocked the analytical community in Arab countries, and the media and blogger space have been flooded with articles analyzing the tragic events, their Islamic undercurrents and their possible impact on US policy in the Arab-Islamic region.
Musa Keilani, the chief editor of Al Urdun weekly in Amman and a former ambassador, wrote: “With all manifestations of terror, many Palestinians and Arabs held their breath for several days in fear that the Boston bombers might turn out to be Arabs, and thus we would have witnessed a repeat of the 9/11 hysteria that stereotyped the Arabs and engulfed the American media then.”1
A Saudi student in the crowd was detained immediately after the bombs went off. A photograph of two Moroccan nationals studying in Boston appeared in the American press and on the Internet with a caption saying that they were being sought by the police. Then the police issued denials.
These and other facts irritated Arab societies on many levels. Numerous analysts pointed to a spike in Islamophobia in the United States. They are concerned that Islam will again find itself on trial, that theories about the clash of civilizations will be bandied about, etc.
Most Arab writers and analysts stress the contradictory nature of the Tsarnaev brothers’ motives with regard to the Chechen footprint in the Boston massacre. Many agree that the brothers were not ostracized or discriminated against in the United States.
Al Jazeera criticized attempts by the American media to portray the brothers as either “walking symbols” of the long-standing conflict between Chechnya and Moscow or as nihilists like Turgenev’s protagonist in his novel Fathers and Sons. It complains that these authors are ignoring the fact that the brothers had not lived in Chechnya but were brought up in the United States.2
Whether they acted alone or were manipulated by radical mentors who urge young people to fight US and Western dominance in the countries of the Islamic Ummah is an open question.
The critics take aim at fatwas issued by radical mentors that contain jihadist rhetoric. Analysts believe that they, in combination with the actions of Islamophobes in Western society, cause most of the damage to Islam and Muslims and distort its true image.
Ahlam Akram, head of the human rights organization BASIRA, said, “In these events, the US government that failed to protect its citizens and ordinary Arabs have been the losers, and those preaching from the pulpit in mosques and inspiring hatred and intolerance of others in the minds of their parishioners are the winners.”3
Several authors point out that radical jihad is frequently precipitated by actions of the United States and the West. They bring up the past, recalling the role played by the United States in Afghanistan, where it pushed Muslims to engage in jihad against the Soviet Union. That strategy eventually boomeranged on its sponsors, because the jihad involved all Muslims.
As some Arab analysts see it, the Boston massacre may affect the efforts of Barack Obama and his administration to improve America’s image in the world in the wake of George Bush and his wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The authors believe the administration may revive the fight against terrorism and make it a current priority on the political landscape of the Arab Spring.
During the war on terror, Washington succeeded in concluding security agreements with several countries. They have allowed the American military there to pursue and capture people under suspicion in the United States. Innocent locals have been the main ones to suffer from drone operations.
The Tunisian lawyer and human rights activist Majid al-Barhoum wonders how the United States will react and what actions it will take if its investigation of the affair in Boston indicates fundamentalist forces that American Islamophobes deem “Islamist extremists” were involved. It is no secret that the Obama administration supported the rise of “Islamic movements” to power in the Arab Spring countries of Tunisia and in Egypt and is encouraging them to consolidate their hold on power.
Thus, the Obama administration finds itself in a difficult position in the eyes of its own public. After all, most Americans do not distinguish between al-Qaeda and jihadist movements on the one hand, and the other Islamic groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, on the other.
Will Obama support moderate Islamic movements in order to undercut radicals in the Arab world? If he does, his Republican opponents could use that to oust the Democrats in future elections and replace them with neoconservatives known for their opposition to Islam that is consistent with the clash of civilizations.
Therefore, many commentators and political analysts, especially in the Persian Gulf countries, have been urging the West not to draw hasty conclusions regarding the undercurrents of the crime at the Boston Marathon and those who committed it based solely on stories in the media or on the Internet, but rather to carry out a full, legal investigation.
Yuri Zinin is a Senior Fellow at the Moscow State Institute for Foreign Relations. Exclusively for New Eastern Outlook.