Race, Religion and Terrorism in the Wake Of Boston

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In the aftermath of the horrific situation in Boston on Monday, all eyes turn to the ultimate question: who did this?

No groups have claimed responsibility yet, so if it was a terrorist organization we probably would have known by now, especially given the number of amputations that occurred. I can’t find anything official, but the last numbers I read were between 20 and 30.

So, was this a lone wolf? Some signs seem to be pointing that way…

The devices used in the Boston Marathon attack Monday are typical of the “lone wolf:” the solo terrorist who builds a bomb on his own by following a widely available formula.

In this case, the formula seems very similar to one that al Qaeda has recommended to its supporters around the world as both crudely effective and difficult to trace. But it is also a recipe that has been adopted by extreme right-wing individuals in the United States.

The threat of the “lone wolf” alarms the intelligence community.

“This is what you worry about the most,” a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN’s Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger. “No trail, no intelligence.”

Long story short, if you wanted to go out and build a device like the ones used in Boston, you could do that…today.

However, this doesn’t point away from al Qaeda. It also doesn’t point away from right-wing extremists either. The terrorist(s) used what is known as a “low-velocity improvised explosive mixture” and could be made with ingredients you find in common fireworks. Ultimately what this means is we’ll be lucky if we can find out where these components came from. There’s likely no discernible trail here.

So that leads us to the next question: if we do catch the terrorist(s)…what will be done? And that leads us into an article posted on Salon yesterday entitled “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.”

A provocative title, yes, but the essay points out a valid concern for those of us interested in making sure our “war” on terrorism produces as few collateral damage casualties as possible.

Case in point…

Though FBI data show fewer terrorist plots involving Muslims than terrorist plots involving non-Muslims, America has mobilized a full-on war effort exclusively against the prospect of Islamic terrorism. Indeed, the moniker “War on Terrorism” has come to specifically mean “War on Islamic Terrorism,” involving everything from new laws like the Patriot Act, to a new torture regime, to new federal agencies like the Transportation Security Administration and Department of Homeland Security, to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to mass surveillance of Muslim communities.

By contrast, even though America has seen a consistent barrage of attacks from domestic non-Islamic terrorists, the privilege and double standards baked into our national security ideologies means those attacks have resulted in no systemic action of the scope marshaled against foreign terrorists. In fact, it has been quite the opposite — according to Darryl Johnson, the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the Department of Homeland Security, the conservative movement backlash to merely reporting the rising threat of such domestic terrorism resulted in DHS seriously curtailing its initiatives against that particular threat. (Irony alert: When it comes specifically to fighting white non-Muslim domestic terrorists, the right seems to now support the very doctrine it criticized Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry for articulating — the doctrine that sees fighting terrorism as primarily “an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort” and not something more systemic.)

Do we, as Americans, seem to ignore the threats inside our own borders by our own citizens because those terrorists look like us, talk like us and go to the same churches as us?

Another salient point…

“White privilege is knowing that even if the bomber turns out to be white, no one will call for your group to be profiled as terrorists as a result, subjected to special screening or threatened with deportation,” writes author Tim Wise. “White privilege is knowing that if this bomber turns out to be white, the United States government will not bomb whatever corn field or mountain town or stale suburb from which said bomber came, just to ensure that others like him or her don’t get any ideas. And if he turns out to be a member of the Irish Republican Army we won’t bomb Dublin. And if he’s an Italian-American Catholic we won’t bomb the Vatican.”

As always, your thoughts are welcome and appreciated.