We don’t as yet know much about the motivation of the accused Boston bombers, the Tsarnaev brothers, but it does seem certain that they had no connection to the Czech Republic, the EU member country in central Europe, formed from the breakup of Czechoslovakia in 1993, along with Slovakia. Chechens are an ethnic group from the North Caucasus region in Russia. Given Americans’ notorious ignorance of geography, it may come as no surprise that the Chechen brothers were quickly identified as “Czechs”. There is a long list of tweets, Facebook messages and even news reports that attack the “Czech” terrorists and call for a reprisal attack against “Czechoslovakia”. The Czech ambassador had to issue a clarification about who Czechs were. There’s speculation that the Brothers were Muslim extremists, with some evidence that the older brother’s views had in fact recently been moving in that direction. Ironically, the Czechs are one of the least religious peoples in the world, with the largest faith, Roman Catholicism, followed by just 10% of the population.
There are many U.S, Americans with Czech roots and festivals celebrating Czech-American heritage. There are far fewer Chechens in the US., partly because of immigration quotas but also due to concerns since 9/11 about immigrants from Muslim countries where there are active extremist elements. Is it really a problem that Americans misidentified the cultural origins of the bombers? Many of those posting the misinformation didn’t think so, responding, when the error was pointed out, that it was all the same, after all, weren’t they all Slavs (another mistake). This is an indication of the lack of knowledge about the world outside the US, but it’s also an indicator of a more serious issue, the tendency to avoid nuanced views or to make fine distinctions. Blanket condemnations, a disregard for facts, and a refusal to think critically have led many Americans to be uniformed citizens, with sometimes disastrous consequences when they cast votes or help decide what should be taught in schools. Maybe we shouldn’t place all the blame on the willfully ignorant and conspiracy theorists (the “Czech” bombers must be connected to the explosion in the Texas fertilizer factory, as there are is a sizable Czech-American community there), our politicians have become adept at, as Paul Krugman puts it, “how to lie with statistics”, purposely distorting reality to fit their political aims.