Letters | On the brink of ‘us vs. them’ after the Marathon

We must not let heinous acts poison our spirit of engagement

In “What should happen next?” (Ideas, April 28), Leon Neyfakh aptly points out that by treating suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev “the same way we treat everyone we prosecute, we will deny him the special status he sought in carrying out the attacks.” Likewise, we need to deny him and his now-deceased brother another victory they might wish to claim.

As University of Arizona psychologist Jeff Greenberg observed on National Public Radio two days after Marathon Monday: “When death is percolating close to consciousness, people become more ‘us vs. them’ — they become defensive of their belief system, positive toward those they identify with and more negative to those who espouse a different belief system.”

That human tendency lurks here, in the wake of the bombings. We know that the apparent perpetrators of those heinous acts self-identified as Muslim. In response, some have already chosen to shun, and even vilify, this entire community of faith. This despite the fact that Muslim leaders in Boston and beyond have repeatedly made clear that these acts were crimes, pure and simple, and in no way justifiable by the Islamic faith.


We lose our way if we allow the acts of extremists to force us into our own respective corners. Whatever their motivation, the Boston Marathon bombers win if in response to their unconscionable acts we poison our community, by shunning, instead of engaging, those whose culture or beliefs are different from our own.

Michael Felsen

Jamaica Plain

The writer is an attorney and is president of Boston Workmen’s Circle.