I volunteered to work in one of the medical tents at the Boston Marathon because like many, I have always been inspired by and wanted to contribute to the experience of watching runners from all corners of the earth compete and safely complete the greatest marathon in the world.
When the bombs went off I experienced the same confusion, fear, and anger that every Bostonian felt that afternoon. Our tent leader helped transform the medical tent I worked in into a trauma unit. As a physician running a team and managing patients, there was no time to consider the implications of what had just happened; it was simply a time to react and respond as I worked with and witnessed hundreds of first responders from every race and religion run into the chaos, instead of away from it, and pull together to save lives.
On that tragic afternoon, and through the successful arrest of the second suspect, I have never been more proud to be an American. We stood together through tragedy and we experienced a shared sense of relief on Friday evening with the successful capture of the second suspect. Now, as we move toward healing it remains every bit as important that we continue to stand united.
As we learn more about the two brothers who appear to have perpetrated these horrific crimes, Americans must remember that the alleged bombers’ faith and the communities that they come from are no more linked to terrorism than any other community or faith would be. As President Obama said, while standing beside leaders from every faith last Thursday, “when a tragedy like this happens, with public safety at risk and the stakes so high, it’s important that we do this right. That’s why we take care not to rush to judgment — not about the motivations of these individuals, certainly not about entire groups of people.”
Sadly though there have already been moments in the past week where some people chose to scapegoat, rather than stand together. An Arab New Yorker in the Bronx was viciously beaten while having racial slurs screamed at him. A mother wearing a traditional Islamic head covering in Malden, MA, was punched by a man looking for somebody to blame.
These recent events didn’t occur in a vacuum. Over the past decade the American Muslim community and communities falsely perceived to be Muslim have been on the receiving end of numerous hate crimes. As a nation we experienced a horrible attack last Monday. No community moving forward should fall victim to those horrors twice.
Religious pluralism, equality, and inclusion are core American values that all of our leaders must take responsibility for protecting. In these moments that test our collective strength it’s important to remember that we are strongest when we stand together and that America’s exceptional inclusion has always been a defining characteristic of our national identity. The Tsarnaev brothers were allegedly responsible for these attacks on Monday, not my Islamic faith.
We are in this together. Terror attacks are meant to divide us against each other, but we should make clear that these efforts will fail.
Next year, our goal should be for the Boston Marathon to be bigger and better than ever. And through our resilience, we should send a message that our ideals endure. As a Bostonian, I feel so incredibly proud to and fortunate to live in such a diverse and compassionate city. It’s also a city that shows no fear. I plan to be there at the finish line next year, a part of this community every step of the way.
Firas Naji is a Syrian American and an internal medicine resident at Cambridge Health Alliance/Harvard Medical School and a first responder at last week’s Boston Marathon.