Saudi Arabs in the US operate under the cloud of 9/11, when 15 Saudi nationals were involved in the attacks. Eleven years is not sufficient to erase memories, nor, sadly, to raise the shadow of suspicion.
Early reports following the bombing of the Boston Marathon finish line were intensely focused on a Saudi student, Abdul Rahman Al-Harbi, who was under police protection at a local hospital. There were reports that he had been tackled by a bystander for ‘behaving suspiciously’ by running away, but running away from a bomb scene strikes me as not only pretty normal behavior, but pretty wise behavior as well.
Authorities in Boston stated yesterday that Al-Harbi was not a perpetrator of the bombing, but was just one of the nearly 180 victims. A student in the Boston area, he did what many tens of thousands people did: take advantage of the local Patriots’ Day holiday and attend the famous Boston Marathon. He got caught in the explosion and the chaos that ensued.
The Washington Post runs an article — mining deeply in Saudi blogger Ahmed Al-Omran’s writings — that tells of other Saudis caught in the mess, including a young woman who nearly lost a leg to injuries.
You’ve probably already heard about the 20-something Saudi study-abroad student who, though he’s not a suspect, was interviewed by police after being injured in Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing and who volunteered to let police search his apartment.
But you may not know about the second Saudi citizen hurt in the blast, a young woman who was also studying in Boston and who, according to Al Arabiya, almost lost her leg. The report, citing a friend of the young woman, says her wounds were so severe that surgeons considered amputating the leg but ultimately were able to save it. A Saudi embassy official, speaking to CNN’s Mohammed Jamjoon, confirmed the woman had been injured, adding that she had been at the race with her husband and child.
There are about 1,000 Saudi citizens studying in Boston, according to a Saudi cultural attache in the United States. Others were also caught in the chaos of the attack, just as terrified as anyone else. A Saudi student named Omar Moathen, headed to meet a friend at mile 26 of the marathon route when the bomb went off, later recounted being corralled into a crowded hotel to wait as police swept for other explosives. His account, translated into English by Saudi blogger Ahmed Al Omran, was like so many others that day. He was confused and feared for his nearby friends, for the children no one could seem to comfort and for himself. He tried to call a friend, waited anxiously and prayed.
Arab News runs an interview with Shatha Jameel Lutfi, another student who found herself in the wrong place:
The UAE’s Gulf News has an interview with Ali Eissa Al-Harbi, Abdul Rahman’s father. He is not well-pleased with the way in which some portions of the US media leaped to conclusions about his son.
Presently, there are no suspects for the bombing in Boston. That makes people uncomfortable as human beings don’t like voids in their mental pictures of the world. If something happens, the effects are apparent, but they want to know the cause. Without a clear cause, they will use their imaginations — perhaps rooted to the slightest bit of information — to fill in the blanks. Because a stem of terrorism in the name of Islam was allowed to grow in Saudi Arabia (Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 attackers, the perpetrators of the various bombings and attacks within Saudi Arabia and across the region) the mention of “Saudi” in any crime report leads to the conclusion, erroneous as it may be, that the event must be laid at the feet of Saudis and Saudi Arabia.
Most Americans don’t have any idea of the battle the Kingdom has been conducting since 2003. That’s not a failure of public relations or inactivity on the part of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, it’s that ideas that play against stereotypes are not really perceived. It’s far easier to believe the narrative that has been formed by history and further fanned by anti-Muslim and anti-Saudi sources.
It’d be great if it were otherwise, but unfortunately it is not. Saudis will have to bear the burden put upon them by certain of those who came before them. At least for a while.