Monday, April 15, 2013

Beware of Overreacting to the Boston Attack Based on Fear and Speculation; Justice Shall Prevail

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families, as well as to all of the people of Boston.  Words cannot describe the sorrow, and even the anger I feel right now.  I can only hope that the full force of justice is brought down on the cowards who perpetrated such an evil and horrific act.

At the same time, I cannot adequately express the admiration I have for the people of Boston and how they have responded; from the police and emergency workers who responded in the face of danger, to the every day people giving a hand to the injured.

But we are now entering a very dangerous time.  I am not talking about the potential for follow-up attacks.  I am talking about the urge to speculate and overreact after such a horrific act of evil has been committed.

As I write these thoughts, there is very little that we know.  We don't know who did this.  We don't know why.  But as in any senseless act, we seek answers.  And at time, when we look for answers and try to make sense of the senseless, our fears lead us to dangerous speculation.

This is a time when yellow journalism flourishes.  Unconfirmed rumors abound, which tend to play upon our biases and our fears.  And sometimes, it is the unconfirmed rumors and the speculation that pushes us to overreact and blame the wrong people.

As an example, one of the headlines on the Drudge Report says, "Young Person Here on Student Visa."  Yet, when you click the link, you see that there is no suspect in custody.  There is just a vague reference to a person in whom the authorities have some interest, stating that he is here on a student visa.  Another link on the Drudge Report highlights an allegation that a "Saudi was acting suspiciously."  Yet, when you click on the link, there is no reference in the article of the nationality of any individual involved.

Likewise, I have been watching Sean Hannity's coverage on Fox News.  Mind you, I am a fan of Hannity and am sympathetic to many of his views.  But, I can describe his coverage of this event as nothing but irresponsible.  Indeed, one of his so-called experts was Mark Furhman, a notorious former Los Angeles police officer who not only was discredited twenty years ago in connection with the Nicole Brown Simpson case, but who has been convicted of perjury.  With no information whatsoever, Furhman continually referred to a "Middle East" style explosive devise, insinuating that this was an act of Middle Eastern terrorism.

Indeed, even former Pennsylvania Governor and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge (a man whom I respect), while noting that much of the information on the explosive devices will be protected by investigators, could not help but speculate publicly about Middle Eastern terrorism.

The danger of such irresponsible speculation at this stage in the development of the story is that it is designed to play on our emotions.  It is designed to manipulate our fears.  You put out there concepts like a suspicious Saudi, Middle Eastern terrorism and a student visa holder, and suddenly you will have people blaming Arabs and the immigration system, all without concrete information.

There is a danger that such a reaction of emotional speculation will derail the push for much needed immigration reform.  There is a danger of blaming an entire group of people, namely Arabs, when we just do not know enough yet.

It is at times like this that we must remember that we are the United States of America.  We built our Constitution on individual freedoms and due process of law.  The Federalist Papers speak of the need to temper the passions of the masses, so that we can approach governance in a deliberative fashion.  We cannot let passions, fear and speculation shape our response to this evil and senseless act now.  We must let justice take its course, based on facts and evidence.

By:  William J. Kovatch, Jr.
(703) 837-8832

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