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U.S. Muslims Mobilize to
Prevent Boston Backlash

BY DAVID GIBSON and LAUREN MARKOE                                                    ©2013 Religion News Service

No sooner had the reality of the Boston Marathon bombing sunk in on April 15 afternoon than Muslim activists in the U.S. began sending out a slew of news releases, tweets and Facebook messages urging prayers and aid for the victims--and condemning whoever was behind the horrific attack.

"American Muslims, like Americans of all backgrounds, condemn in the strongest possible terms today's cowardly bomb attack on participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon," Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement.

It's a familiar race against time for Muslim groups. Almost as soon as the smoke cleared around Copley Square, they knew from long experience that some would immediately point the finger of blame in their direction.

Many widely believed Muslims were behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, until American militiaman Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the crime.

"We also call for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators," Awad added, echoing a statement from the Muslim Public Affairs Council that called on "all of us as Americans to work together to bring those responsible to justice."

Still, regular Fox News guest commentator Erik Rush quickly sent out tweets blaming Muslims, adding in one, "Let's kill them," a post he subsequently deleted. "Jihad in America," wrote anti-Muslim blogger Pam Geller.

The New York Post had to pull a story that reported that police had a Saudi suspect in custody. Later reports that a Saudi national's apartment near Boston had been searched also raised anxieties among Muslims; the man, who was wounded in the bombing, was subsequently cleared.

"Discrimination against Muslims has been a real dynamic in the United States," said Christina Warner, campaign director of Shoulder-to-Shoulder, a national interfaith alliance of Muslims, Jews and Christians who combat anti-Muslim prejudice. "We've already seen some reports falsely identifying the perpetrator as a Saudi individual when he was just a witness."

"Obviously it's a matter of concern," said Naeem Baig, president of the Islamic Circle of North America, though he added that he has been impressed so far with the restraint shown by mainstream commentators.

"I see a very cautious and balanced approach from the media. It shows a lot of responsibility on their part, not jumping to conclusions," he said.

"And the president and his statements were very balanced and mature," Baig said. "Overall, politicians and the media have behaved responsibly."

Yet if, in fact, Muslim extremists turn out to be associated in any way with the Boston bombing, then the fears in the Muslim community -- and the efforts at damage control -- will rise to a whole new level.


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