It’s been over a week since the Boston Marathon Bombings and everyone- the Post-Soviet world especially- is up in arms and glued to the news. I had my own reasoning for refreshing Twitter obsessively; as a recreational runner, the tragedy shook me to my core. As a student of Russia and its many problematic relationships, the bombers’ connection to Chechnya certainly piqued my interest.
Like many others, I was ashamed at our nation’s collective ignorance of geography and world history, not to mention our complete lack of cultural sensitivity. “I can’t believe this is how Americans think,” I found myself repeating. But I quickly retreated from those feelings. After all, you can’t lambaste someone for stereotyping when you yourself engage in it.
It’s hard to stop myself, though, particularly since everyone’s doling out their fair share of stereotyping lately. Caucasus experts are parsing the media’s every work for hints of racism and an obvious (and forgivable) lack of in-depth knowledge. Human rights activists are searching for the one tiny proverbial needle of “typical cop behavior” in the haystack of bravery and service displayed by law enforcement agencies. Anti-government crazies of all types are uncovering conspiracy theories demonstrating — you guessed it — the American government’s stereotypical behavior. And the media machine feeds it all, spinning and speculating.
Rather than reeling from these fictitious hurts which distract from the very real damage inflicted during the attack- not to mention the other tragedies that have occurred in the interim, such as explosions in West, Texas, the use of chemical warfare in Syria, and daily IED explosions in the Middle East- I suggest that we use the tragedy to learn some fairly simple lessons. They’re not lessons on the governmental scale, but they are small changes we can each make to ensure our response to the next tragic event is more informed.
1. Make it our personal mission to be better informed about geography. I’m not expecting everyone to know the details of the Chechen conflict. But in the age of the internet, the least we can do is google “Chechnya” to find that it is not, in fact, the same as Czechoslovakia (which, by the way, has not existed since 1993). Pass this information on. Inform your fellow citizens. Don’t rely on the hastily-reported facts in the news.
2. Trust in the American justice system. The information age has made us so hungry for details as soon as they become uncovered that we have more information about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev now than we might have before a trial ten or even five years ago. Investigations such as this take time, even though the investigative methods available to us have advanced. There is no need to pressure law enforcement officials to release all relevant details to the press immediately. And there is certainly no need to listen to police scanners to the degree that the public was during the hunt for Tsarnaev; how easily might the information found on the scanner have been disseminated to Tsarnaev himself as he attempted to outrun police?
3. Don’t feed the media machine. While everyone is slamming the media for inaccurate and hasty reporting, all they are really doing is feeding a demand that we created. As I’ve already admitted, I am guilty of obsessively refreshing to feed my news needs as well, but this only encourages the very behavior we have loudly protested.
These small corrections to our own individual behavior might serve us in the long run; with a responsive, accountable, and careful news media and a smarter American public, perhaps in the future a time of national mourning won’t be forfeit for embarrassment on a global scale.