Running for Boston in Jakarta

The weeks following the Boston bombing have been filled with media reports with all-too-familiar suspicion of Islam and –as Nicole explored in a recent post– hijab-wearing Muslim women.

However, both local and international media largely missed an act of activism from my part of the world that had taken place even before Ann Coulter appeared on TV with her infamous “ought to be in prison for wearing the hijab” comment.

A friend of mine, Indonesian blogger Ninit Yunita, is an avid runner who is an active member of the Indo Runners, a community of Indonesian urban runners. She gets excited about running events, including the Boston marathon, which she announced on her Twitter timeline a few moments before it began.

Then the tragedy happened.

On April 16, even as the dramatic manhunt was still unfolding, Ninit and her fellow Indo Runners already announced that they were hosting a week-long event named “Running for Boston” to call for solidarity for the bombing victims. Black solidarity ribbons were distributed and everyone was invited to join; it didn’t matter whether one came with a pair of shorts or long sleeves and hijab.

“Let’s run for Boston. We are all runners, doesn’t matter the color of our skin nor faith,” announced the Indo Runners on the Running for Boston website.

At the conclusion of the event on April 22, the Indo Runners announced that a total run of 42,652 km—or equalling more than 1,000 marathons– has been ‘collected’ and dedicated to the Boston bombing victims as a token of solidarity.

In a number of ways, this act of solidarity defies the common ways in which the Western media often frames Islam and in particular Muslim women. For example, as opposed to being subservient creatures incapable of agency, here were Muslim women like Ninit who took the initiative to organise a movement around a cause they cared about. Such cases are actually not uncommon in Indonesia or even in many other Muslim countries, but as Emaan pointed out recently, many major media outlets in the Western hemisphere more often than not choose to cherry pick and twist stories about Muslim women that support the current narratives of the oppressed gender in Islam.

Secondly, while Nicole felt that some media stories post-Boston attack seemed to alienate the hijab from the notion of being an “all-American girl”, halfway around the world hijabis like Ninit ran alongside non-hijabis, Muslims as well as non-Muslims to show their support and sympathy towards the people of Boston. I can’t find a better description for these two contrasting cases than one word: ironic.

Seeing the phrase “Islamic extremism” scattered in the media to refer to the Boston bombing made me curious about its implications. If an act of violence wrongly perpetrated by a handful of Muslims can be labelled as such to invoke a direct relationship between the crime and Islam, the alternative case should be allowed as well. Even though the Indo Runners as a community is not affiliated with any demographic or religious group, many of its members as well as the organizing committee of Running for Boston–including Ninit—are Muslims. So, following the Western media, should I call this act of activism an “Islamic act of solidarity”?

The Boston marathon bombing is a vile act and whoever committed the attack should be brought to justice. But the incriminating media reports on Islam and Muslim women following the tragedy are not only misleading; they potentially belittle the ripples of sympathies and condolences sent from across the world to the people of Boston.

 


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