In light of the latest reactions to the tragic Boston Marathon bombings, it seems that the problem of "guilt by association" has again reared its ugly head.
Robel Phillipos, the young man accused of assisting in the terrorist conspiracy, has pleaded not guilty. He insists that he had not even maintained consistent contact with the Tsarnaev brothers and had just happened to speak to them the day of the bombings. Here, we see what may constitute as paranoia gone awry. Investigators are so wrapped up in blaming whomever they can that they seem to have forgotten a key element: motive.
Up to now, the two Chechnyan suspects have been framed as committing this atrocity as a protest against Western treatment of Muslims, a concept that is often associated today with many different acts of terrorism. However, Phillipos' mother, an immigrant from Ethiopia, has stated that she raised her son with Christian values. Now quite obviously, the recent suspect's mother references the Christian faith to highlight a sense of morality in her son's upbringing. Still, she mentions faith, an aspect that has been consistently conflated with political dissent when it comes to terrorist motives within the United States. This young man was simply acquainted with the suspects through university and the three men did not even share a common faith. Therefore, to admit or even suggest that Phillipos had a hand in this operation would indicate a motive other than religious extremism.
The fact remains that, as of now, authorities possess no concrete evidence as to Phillipos's direct involvement in the Boston Marathon bombings and would do well to release him. Such paranoia could result in a slippery slope of suspecting any individual who has even recently associated with a criminal (or suspected terrorist), and this behavior would be simply unethical according to the United States's professed motto of "innocent until proven guilty." This country has already seen a decline in international favor due to Islamophobic sentiment and certainly does not need to descend further by treating American citizens with groundless paranoia.