Searching for Scapegoats

April 29, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Boston Bombing SuspectsAs investigators continue to probe Dzhokhar Tsarnaev concerning his role in the Boston Marathon bombing, his motive, though not fully understood, nevertheless seems to be driven at least in part by an al Qaeda agenda.  Consider this from NBC News:

It is as slickly designed as any magazine you would find at the supermarket checkout line, or in the seat pocket in front of you on an airplane. It even has snappy cover headlines – teasing articles like “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.”

And now Inspire, the recruitment magazine of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, probably has its next cover story:  It allegedly helped inspire the two brothers accused of bombing the Boston Marathon.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the hospitalized suspect in the marathon attack, has told federal investigators that the brothers got information on building bombs from Inspire, law enforcement officials told NBC News.[1]

Before Dzhokhar and his brother Tamerlan were identified by the FBI as the suspects in this bombing, confusion – and, I should add, speculation – as to who could have done such a thing abounded.  There was the damaging gaffe from the New York Post which published a cover featuring two young men who, according to the Post, were sought by “the Feds” when, in fact, they were not suspects in the bombing.[2]  And then there were those who speculated – and even hoped – that the bomber would either be or not be a certain race, religion, or political persuasion.

Two articles, published before the Tsarnaev brothers were identified, are of special interest in this regard.  The first article appeared in The Guardian carrying the headline, “US Muslims ‘holding their breath’ as Boston investigators hunt for bomber.”[3]  The article opened:

US Muslims are “holding their breath” as the investigation into the Boston Marathon attacks develops, amid fears of increased racial profiling and attacks if an Islamic link is confirmed, according to advocate groups.

The second article was by David Sirota, writing for Salon, and was titled, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American.”[4]  Sirota, who I should point out is himself a white American, offers the rational for his demographic hope thusly:

If the bomber ends up being a white anti-government extremist, white privilege will likely mean the attack is portrayed as just an isolated incident – one that has no bearing on any larger policy debates. Put another way, white privilege will work to not only insulate whites from collective blame, but also to insulate the political debate from any fallout from the attack.

It will probably be much different if the bomber ends up being a Muslim and/or a foreigner from the developing world. As we know from our own history, when those kind of individuals break laws in such a high-profile way, America often cites them as both proof that entire demographic groups must be targeted, and that therefore a more systemic response is warranted. At that point, it’s easy to imagine conservatives citing Boston as a reason to block immigration reform defense spending cuts and the Afghan War withdrawal and to further expand surveillance and other encroachments on civil liberties.

Interestingly, both of these articles share this in common:  they both hoped the bomber was not a Muslim.  But Sirota’s article takes it one step farther.  He wants the bomber to be “a white anti-government extremist.”  The Guardian’s article has only a negative hope for who the bomber is not.  Sirota, on the other hand, holds out a positive hope for who the bomber is. 

I can sympathize with the sentiments of those interviewed for The Guardian’s article.  After all, I cringe whenever I hear another Christian merely say something wrongheaded, hypocritical, or bombastic.  To have someone who claims to follow Christ plant and detonate a bomb in the midst of a crowd of marathon onlookers would break my heart.  After all, such a tragedy would harm the Christian witness and put up a Satanic barrier that could very well be a powerful preventive against people coming to the truth.  I can only imagine the stress, anguish, and embarrassment that some in the Muslim community must be feeling right now.  And when these feelings are coupled with the potential of reckless retaliation against mosques and Muslim religious leaders, my guess would be that many in the Muslim community are also feeling fear.  Thus, those in the Muslim community deserve our prayers for their protection against such retaliatory attacks as well as our prayers that they continue to be afforded the basic human dignity implicit to the imago Dei.  Whether or not a person is a Christian, everyone should be afforded a basic amount of dignity and respect, for we are all creations of the Almighty.  A tragedy like this can make a certain people group feel as though they have lost even this basic modicum of dignity and respect.

I have a much harder time understanding the sentiments of Sirota’s article.  Hoping that a particular person or people group has committed a heinous crime is beyond me.  As a Christian, the prayer is never that a particular person or people group would sin, but that a particular person or people group would be guarded from sin.  The words of Jesus come to mind:  “Lead us not into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).

The fundamental problem with Sirota’s argument is this:  he is trying to identify a scapegoat that will most readily suit his own political machinations and interests.  The message of Christianity is that a scapegoat, not for politics, but for sin has already been provided – Jesus.  Thus, rather than trying to lay blame at the feet of a particular person for the sake of a political agenda, we can lay blame on the cross of Christ where it will be taken away.  For Christ not only takes the blame for human sin by His death, He conquers it by His resurrection.  And so, when sin rears its ugly head as it did in Boston, which would you rather have:  someone you can blame or someone who can save?

I know what my answer is.


[1] Erin McClam, “Slick al Qaeda online magazine aims to train a generation of killers,” NBC News (3.23.2013).

[2] See “NY Post claims these are the two men police are looking for in Boston bombings – but one is a local teen who’s in shock,” The Blaze (4.18.2013)

[3] Karen McVeigh, “US Muslims ‘holding their breath’ as Boston investigators hunt for bomber,” The Guardian (4.17.2013).

[4] David Sirota, “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American,” Salon (4.16.2013)

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