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Officials right to damp down Muslim terrorism fear in Boston Marathon bombing

Earl Ofari Hutchinson | 4/25/2013, noon

President Obama’s first official statement on the Boston Marathon bombing couldn’t have been plainer on this point: “We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts.”

Yet all it took was an isolated and report that Boston Police were questioning a young Saudi national to set off the standard finger-pointing at Muslim terrorists. The Saudi national, as it turned out, is here on a legal visa and had no criminal record. But that didn’t stop some Muslim advocacy groups from quickly issuing statements condemning the attack as “cowardly.”

This was both defense and precaution, one that Muslim groups feel is mandatory given the predictable speculation that they are the culprits in any terrorist attack.

The good thing is that government officials and many in the media have learned to pause, take a breath and wait until more is known about why an attack happened, and who the likely perpetrator(s) are. This spares officials and the media the ultimate embarrassment of pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

Four years after the Ft. Hood, Texas, bloodbath, Obama applied the wait-and-see approach in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings. The pack of rightist bloggers and talk radio chatterers jumped all over the shooting of several military personnel at the military base and fanned anti-Muslim passions. It didn’t take much to get the hate juices flowing. A legion of writers on web sites spewed the ritual anti-Muslim slurs, profanities and insults at the alleged shooter Major Nidal Hasan and, by extension, all Muslims.

Obama quickly cautioned the public not to rush to judgment about that shooting and the shooter. Obama took a page from Presidents Clinton’s and Bush’s playbooks when mob hysteria was building after the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1996 and the 9/11 attacks. Clinton and Bush cautioned the public not to blame Muslims for the attacks.

The Oklahoma City bombing was the handiwork of Timothy McVeigh, a loose screw, red-blooded American fanatic. The 9/11 attackers were mostly Saudi nationals. Yet, that still didn’t stop the murmurs, finger-pointing and bashing of all Muslims.

That’s no surprise. American Muslims have been the repeated targets of verbal digs, physical assaults and profiling. They are just too inviting a scapegoat for the fears and frustrations many Americans have had over two failed and flawed wars, a stagnant Middle East peace process and the increasing presence of Muslims in their neighborhoods, schools and work places, especially when wearing Muslim attire.

Beyond the need for caution and just plain good sense in making official pronouncements on who committed a heinous act of violence and the motive behind it, there’s also the reality that much of the recent mass violence in the country has nothing to do with alleged crazed, vengeful Muslim terrorists. It’s been homegrown and the perpetrators have been young, loose-screwed gun nuts. Or they have been right-wing, racist loons that have a beef against a judge or a federal official. This has awoken millions of Americans to the grim reality that mass terror can be inflicted just as easily by the withdrawn, delusional kid next door as a foreigner sneaking into the country bent on mayhem and murder.

This also should not surprise us when we consider that the U.S. has poured a king’s ransom during the past decade into foreign and homeland security, surveillance, monitoring and arrests, and detention of countless individuals with known or suspected terrorist group connections.

Government officials periodically note with pride that the money is not a total waste, since there have been no known successful terrorist attacks that could be positively traced back to a Muslim terror group since 9/11 on U.S. soil. But this doesn’t mean that an attack couldn’t happen despite mountainous spending to stop it and world-class, state-of-the-art security measures.

The Boston Marathon bombing could be — as some officials cautiously said — the work of a foreign or a domestic terror group, or a lone terrorist, or a crackpot. This much is known. Police and government officials don’t know anything yet. And they have been wise not to do or say anything that will fan anti-Muslim hysteria. And that’s a very good thing.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst.