Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bomb suspects, reportedly wrote that “an attack against one Muslim is an attack against all” on the wall of the boat in which he was hiding from police last month. Variations of this refrain seem to be common among angry young Muslim men, especially those who are attracted to violence. However, such a view ignores history, religious thinking and contemporary reality. It should be seen as a crass advertising slogan rather than a declaration of belief.
Tsarnaev’s quote seems to be based on the idea of a global Muslim community, called the ummah, that has always been aspirational. The Tsarnaev brothers clearly felt that they were being marginalized, and the fact that they did not belong to an American Muslim community further reinforced that belief. So the brothers turned to the idea of the ummah, a historical fiction that has not existed in practice in all of Muslim history. Muslims are too varied to connect to one way of being a community.
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