Runners across the world, and particularly across the United States, are uniting together in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon, running in memory of those who were injured and killed at the finish line on April 15.

Here’s some headlines:

Through it all, runners have shown the solidarity of their community and the personal determination they each hold. As a runner myself, the news of the bombing at the finish line seemed almost too unimaginable to grasp.

The end of a race is an exhilarating moment. When the finish line comes in sight, you pound every last ounce of effort out of your body, forcing yourself to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Around you the roar of the crowd, encouraging cheers and shouts, overwhelm physical pain.

For those athletes expending their last bit of strength, and the innocent bystanders lending their enthusiasm, I can only image the staggering surge of adrenaline and fear that rushed over the crowd at the sound of the first explosion.

It’s completely understandable that runners across the world are banding together. It’s completely understandable that people want answers as to how this could happen. It’s completely understandable that people want the remaining living bomber to be convicted.

What is not completely understandable is the rash of stereotyping that took place after the attack.

An Atlantic article headline put it nicely, “The Boston Bombers were Muslim: So?”

In a moment of crisis, the mind makes snap judgments, in this case falling to the stereotype that all Muslims are extremists.

The Atlantic article said:

Tamerlan and Dzhokar Tsarnaev are not simply “the Marathon bombers,” or “murderers,” or “Chechens,” or “immigrants,” or “Muslims.” They might turn out to be all of those things. They might not. The one thing we know for sure is that they are not only those things. They had friends and families and lives. They had YouTube accounts and Twitter feeds. They went to class. They went to work. They came home, and they left it again.

And then they did something unimaginable.

Even if Tamerlan and Dzhokar are found to fit with the labels they have been given, they are people first: Millennials, members of our generation.

What this reveals is that labels and stereotypes play a large role in current American society. They feed off of deep seated fears. But people need to remember that acts such as these are rare on American soil and committed by varying groups of people.

Guest columnist for the Seattle Times, Arsalan Iftikhar, wrote an opinion piece titled, “Please, God, don’t let the Boston Marathon bomber be a Muslim,” addressing this issue.

“Whenever our country faces a massacre on our soil, the first thought most Muslims around the country think is this: ‘Please, God, don’t let it be a Muslim,’” Iftikhar wrote.

Iftikhar argues that there is a “double standard when it comes to American Muslims and acts of terrorism in the United States,” meaning that acts of terror are treated differently depending on whether the perpetrator is Muslim or not, even if they are Muslim American.

Iftikhar’s final word, an act of terror is an act of terror. It doesn’t matter who committed it.

I concur. Although sweeping generalizations are easy to turn to in times of fear, they only stagnate meaningful discussion about how crimes can occur, and give false solace in having labels to brand the act.

The real question is how can we stop something like this from happening again?

I believe the answer lies in community. Just as runners can come together in support of one another around the world, so should the broader community be able to come together in determining how to prevent future destructive acts.

Here’s an interesting headline from the Atlantic that provides a counter-stereotype and an example of community at work: “How Toronto’s Muslim Community Uncovered the Would-Be Train Bombers.”

An attempted attack on a rail line between the United States and Canada was foiled this past Monday by a tip from the leader of the Muslim community in Toronto.

Muhammed Robert Heft, who runs Toronto’s Paradise Forever Islamic Center, informed police of a member of the Islamic community who was expressing extremist views. The police now have arrested two suspects in the plotted rail bombing based off of the tip.

Another interesting factor is that Heft speaks with community members who are adopting extremist views, encouraging them to back away from radical ideas.

Clearly, community engagement can play a key role preventative role, and it is within a concerned, attentive, and unprejudiced society that the answers to precluding acts of rash violence can occur.

In sum, although stereotypes are easy to turn to in times of fear, they should not be accepted as definitions of an individual or an entire society.


Featured photo credit: Yahoo News