For American Muslims, Dread

"We are doing a bad job of reaching out to young people," he said. "Extremists are doing a great job."

RTR2KWU5.jpgEric Thayer/Reuters

Louisville, Kentucky - Friday morning, four Pakistani-American doctors dressed in business suits and medical scrubs sat in one of this city's most popular breakfast spots and fretted. At an adjacent table, a middle-aged woman grew visibly nervous when their native land was mentioned. One of the doctors, a 47-year-old cardiologist, was despondent.

"We were all praying this wouldn't happen," he told me. "No matter what you do in your community, that's the label that is attached."

Another doctor worried that years of outreach efforts by the city's 10,000-strong Muslim community, a mix of Bosnians, Somalis and Iraqis, would be lost. Thursday, he sent a letter to the local newspaper condemning the Boston attack "no matter who committed it." When news broke Friday that the two suspects were Chechen Muslims, his family grew nervous.

"Five minutes ago my mom called from Copenhagen to see if I was ok," the 41-year-old geriatrician said. "It rattles all of us."

Clearly, Bostonians have and will suffer the most from the marathon bombings. Hundreds of thousands of innocent people "sheltered in place" in and around Boston Friday. The injured now face months, if not years, of arduous recuperation. And the families of the dead will never recover.

It is by no means equivalent but the attack also impacts the United States' roughly 2.5 million Muslims. As television screens displayed the words "the terrorist next door" Friday, a sense of dread spread among Muslim community leaders here.

"When this happens," the cardiologist said, "it just gets tough."

Twelve years after the September 11, 2001 attacks, some see it almost as a cliché to say all Muslims should not be blamed for the actions of a radical few. But it is vital that understandably anxious Americans adhere to that principal. Whatever their motivations, the Tsarnaev brothers are not representative of Muslims in the United States -- or the world.

In the days and weeks ahead, Americans will learn chilling details about the Tsarnaev brothers. Links to groups outside the United States may be revealed. Their years in the America will be dissected. The immigration policies that allowed their families to emigrate will likely be criticized.

But it is important not to exaggerate their impact. Days of chaos have unfolded in Boston but the attacks have not paralyzed the country. Four deaths and 176 injuries are heart rendering but they are a tiny fraction of the 3,000 who perished on September 11. The attack's primary legacy is fear. The actions of two young men will focus an enormous amount of suspicion on Chechens and Muslims across the nation.

Based on initial reports, the Tsarnaevs' story is chilling. Two brothers, one an aspiring boxer and the other a high school wrestling captain, were seemingly transformed overnight into soulless killing machines. I suspect, though, that the process took years.

In 2008, the Taliban kidnapped two Afghan colleagues and me after inviting us to an interview. Held captive in the tribal areas of Pakistan for seven months, we found that Arab, Afghan and Pakistani militants had created a sophisticated system of schools, training camps and indoctrination videos that slowly severed young men's bonds with their families.

Presented by

David Rohde is an investigative reporter for Reuters and a contributing editor for The Atlantic. A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, he is a former foreign correspondent for The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor. His latest book, Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East, was published in 2013. More

He is also the author of Endgame and, with Kristen Mulvihill, A Rope and a Prayer. He lives in New York City.

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