“The most revealing image of Dzhokhar is not the one of him hugging an African-American friend at his high school graduation, but the one of him sitting at a kitchen table with his arm around a guy his age who appears to be of Central Asian descent,” she writes . “In front of them is a dish plov , a Central Asian dish of rice and meat, and a bottle of Ranch dressing.” Again, it is difficult to imagine a journalist writing with such breathtaking arrogance – why is the Central Asian friend more “revealing” than the African-American one? What, exactly, are they “revealing”? – about the inner life of someone from a more familiar place.
One way to test whether you are reading a reasonable analysis of the Tsarnaev case – and yes, they exist – is to replace the word “Chechen” with another ethnicity. “I could always spot the Chechens in Vienna,” writes journalist Oliver Bulloughs in the New York Times . “They were darker-haired than the Austrians; they dressed more snappily, like 1950s gangsters; they never had anything to do.” Now substitute the word “Jews” for “Chechens”. Minority-hunting in Vienna never ends well .
Demonising an Ethnicity
It is easy to criticise the media, and after this disastrous week , there is much to criticise. But the consequences of the casual racism launched at Chechens – and by association, all other Muslims from the former Soviet Union, who are rarely distinguished from one another by the public – are serious. By emphasising the Tsarnaevs’ ethnicity over their individual choices, and portraying that ethnicity as barbaric and violent , the media creates a false image of a people destined by their names and their ” culture of terror ” to kill. There are no people in Chechnya, only symbols. There are no Chechen-Americans, only threats.
Ethnicity is often used to justify violent behaviour. But no ethnicity is inherently violent. Even if the Tsarnaevs aligned themselves with violent Chechen movements – and as of now, there is no evidence they did – treating Chechen ethnicity as the cause of the Boston violence is irresponsible.
One hundred years ago, the violent act of one Polish-American caused a country to treat all Polish-Americans with suspicion. Now, the Poles have become “White” – which is to say they are largely safe from the accusations of treason and murderous intent that ethnic groups deemed non-White routinely face. When a Polish-American commits a crime, his ethnicity does not go on trial with him.
But this change is not a triumph for America. It is a tragedy that it happened to Poles then, and a greater tragedy that we have not learned our lesson and it happens still – to Hispanics, to Africans, to Chechens, to any immigrant who comes here seeking refuge and finds prejudice instead.
“I respect this country, I love this country,” the suspects’ uncle, Ruslan Tsarni, said in an emotional condemnation of his nephews. “This country which gives chance to everyone else to be treated as a human being.”
Chechens and other Muslim immigrants from the former Soviet Union are human beings. They are not walking symbols of violent conflict. Do not look to a foreign country to explain a domestic crime. Look to the two men who did it – and judge them by what they have done, not from where their ancestors came.
By: Sarah Kendzior