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Don't scapegoat a faith for bombings

By Farhana Khera, Special to CNN
April 22, 2013 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
A Muslim woman attends an interfaith vigil for September 11 victims in Boston last fall.
A Muslim woman attends an interfaith vigil for September 11 victims in Boston last fall.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Farhana Khera loves Boston, went to Wellesley College, halfway point of marathon
  • After bombings, people were united in helping others and came together, she says
  • Khera: Sadly, some American Muslims were targeted after the attacks
  • She says Americans of every faith, culture are united against terror

Editor's note: Farhana Khera is the president and executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization dedicated to promoting freedom, justice and equality for all, regardless of faith.

(CNN) -- Like so many Americans across the country, I was shocked when I heard of the attacks at the Boston Marathon. A part of me immediately traveled back to when I was cheering runners myself as a student at Wellesley College, the midpoint for the marathon, a time when such dangers as bombings never crossed our minds.

Boston is an indelible part in the personal history and identity of those who have lived or attended school in the city. That someone had detonated bombs at an event that symbolized unity in a place known for its rich diversity and as a birthplace of our nation's freedom was heartbreaking.

Farhana Khera
Farhana Khera

This last week has seen a whirlwind of fighting in a dramatic manhunt, leaving an entire city on lockdown and lives in danger. I am heartened to hear stories where the human spirit rose above the ugliness and absolute horror facing the community. Law enforcement officers and other first responders risked their lives to help others. Several marathoners ran straight to the hospital to give blood, and doctors rushed to hospitals. A restaurant opened its doors and offered free food to its neighbors while they were stuck in a lockdown.

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It is these testaments of unity and heroism that make us stronger. Bostonians are coming together and helping each other because, as U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, "When tragedy strikes, we are ... one family. We hurt together, we help each other together."

We have, sadly, seen less than stellar moments in our nation's response to these attacks. A New Yorker in the Bronx says he was viciously beaten soon after the Boston Marathon -- he was mistaken for "Arab," and believes the attack was motivated by the bombings. A mother in Malden, Massachusetts, who was wearing the traditional Islamic head covering, says she was punched in the shoulder by a man shouting anti-Muslim slurs while blaming Muslims for the Boston bombings.

While most leaders and media have been measured in their tone, we have seen some jump to conclusions or incite vitriol against their fellow Americans, the most outrageous of which was commentator Erik Rush tweeting, "Let's kill them all," referring to Muslims. He later claimed it was sarcasm but then wrote on a social network site: "It's nice to see all the Islamist apologists standing up for those who would waste them in a heartbeat."

It is critical for all Americans to refrain from scapegoating any group of people.
Farhana Khera

As we learn more about the two brothers who are suspected of these horrific crimes, Americans should not let anyone, especially those who seek to instill fear, tear our nation apart. Emotions and frustrations are running high, and as we grapple to make sense of the tragedy, it is critical for all Americans to refrain from scapegoating any group of people or targeting innocent Americans based on their racial, religious and ethnic identity.

As Americans, we were all proud of the way most citizens in this tragedy responded. Bystanders, first responders, marathoners and law enforcement rushed to do what they could. These good people came from every faith and background, reflecting the rich diversity that makes our country great. We must remember that the same thing that defined our strength on that day should define our strength in response -- a nation that unites people from every faith, culture and background in a common purpose.

We stand taller, braver and united when we stand together. And that is something no criminal should ever be able to take from us.

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Erik Rush was a Fox News contributor.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Farhana Khera.

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