What Can We Do About the Terror and Unjust Persecution of the Boston Marathon Bombings?
by Kemal Argon (Specialist on Islam in the Modern World)
Watching the news about the Boston Marathon bombings was very shocking and saddening. I have personally walked in and around the area of Copley Square in Boston many times over the years that I have lived in Massachusetts. To then see it more recently transformed into a scene of premeditated murder, carnage and trauma is unbearable.
Everyone who was present on that day or who has watched the news of the terror bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon, and who has seen the victimization and destruction and has felt any shock, sadness, grief or outrage, is a victim of nothing less than unjust persecution. Whether this impact is severe and obvious or more insidiously subtle it is persecution nonetheless. While the actual physical impact of the bombings is acutely horrible, we can reasonably assume that a more subtle psychological impact is much more widespread across the country. My reason for describing this as unjust persecution is to suggest that we have a broader scope of nonviolent resources with which to actively resist this unjust persecution and also to attempt to ameliorate the impact of terror generally.
Some important perspective can be gleaned from Janice Bell Meisenhelder and John P. Marcum in their article, "Terrorism, Post-traumatic Stress, Coping Strategies, and Spiritual Outcomes" (Journal of Religion and Health, Vol. 48, pp. 46-57/Springer Science and Business Media, B.V. 2009). It is interesting that Meisenhelder and Marcum mention existence of both non-spiritual and spiritual coping strategies for dealing with post-traumatic stress. In their study of one group, they state in their abstract, "Positive spiritual outcomes were remarkably related to positive spiritual coping strategies, in contrast to no association with negative coping. " Clearly they detect some kind of success with these spiritual approaches as shown in their study. I would draw on their findings and say that we can work for positive spiritual outcomes in many other communities too.
My own thought is that taking any positive action that ameliorates the effects of terror can be seen as an anti-terror measure. It should really be said that one simple and important non-spiritual way (among others) to ameliorate the impact of terror and persecution is available from the skilled professionals working in the mental health field and related professions. Anyone who thinks or even suspects that they need or would benefit from professional help really should make a simple phone call to one of these skilled mental health professionals for more information. Whether we are making inquiries for ourselves or encouraging a friend or relative to make inquiries, with the right intention, asking for competent help can certainly be counted as nothing less than a legitimate way to resist or ameliorate the effects of terror and unjust persecution.
Whether one chooses to make inquiries with mental health or counseling professionals or not, there is also much more that can be done spiritually to resist unjust persecution. My own perspective is informed by Meisenhelder and Marcum when they conclude, "People who were more stressed used more coping mechanisms, most commonly looking to God for strength, prayer, displaying a flag, seeking time with friends and family, and contributing money to help the victims." Meisenhelder and Marcum's study of the use of coping mechanisms in one community is interesting as it suggests the possibility of a certain kind of success as a possible outcome. I would like to suggest in addition to these aforementioned categories, that interfaith work, including disciplined study of other religions and multi-faith peace-building, can be approached as spiritual practices. These could be explored as coping mechanisms that would also be approached to help to resist unjust persecution.
For use within such interfaith work, authoritative religious work exists that treats the unlawfulness within Islam of terrorism against non-Muslims. Dr. Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri's "Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings," can be seen described here and can be downloaded free here.
Dr. Qadri devotes two convincing chapters of evidence and opinion on the unlawfulness within Islam of terrorism against non-Muslims (pages 117-156) These two chapters present important content that is potentially quite useful for discussion in interfaith work, ultimately approached for coping and resisting unjust persecution.
To demonstrate this suggestion, a relevant example of Dr. Qadri's reasoning can be found on page 120 of his printed fatwa where he states with regard to "the terrorists who indiscriminately murder people through bomb blasts, suicide bombings and other means of destruction." He says, "The divine injunction, 'do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just,' clearly enjoins that no nation or group of people can be allowed to adopt oppression as a policy." This general injunction against oppression certainly is relevant for those oppressed by the Boston Marathon bombings. It may indeed ring true for those unjustly persecuted, direct victims of the terror bombings and anyone emotionally impacted.
Anyone who feels negatively emotionally impacted by the Boston Marathon terror bombings has the right to say, "I have been a victim of unjust persecution and I intend to do something positive about it." Even if we may not feel severely stressed, it can be a beneficial practice to engage in both non-spiritual and spiritual coping strategies. I maintain that these can also include interfaith and peace-building work. Our intentions and motivations with this sort of work can be geared at helping others to cope and to find strength to resist unjust persecution.
Lastly, I want to agree with Imam Soheib Sultan, who, in his recent HuffPost article, describes the problem of fear. (Admittedly, he gives a better sermon than I would be able to give right now about dealing with fear.) With both spiritual and non-spiritual approaches, we can strive to overcome not only unjust persecution but also this problem of fear and its negative effects. This is where it is interesting and important to hear what various religious figures and others have to say about love.