A Afghan National Army (ANA) cadet stands at attention during a graduation ceremony at the Ghazi Military Training Centre in Kabul on December 15, 2011. Photo: Getty
The public seemed to breathe a collective sigh of relief after AWOL Afghan soldierswere apprehended at Canadian border on Monday, because, you know, people assumed they were Islamic terrorists.
The National Guard as well as state and local officials were emphatic that Major Jan Mohammad Arash, Captain Mohammad Nasir Askarzada and Captain Noorullah Aminyar, who are believed to have been trying to defect, posed no risk to the public after disappearing from a Cape Cod U.S. military base on Saturday.
The social media response was clear when news broke Sunday night of their disappearance - people were skeptical that there was no risk to the public, with many pointing to the recent notoriety of Islamic terrorist organization ISIS.
But the Afghan trio's disappearance also revealed the more racist shades of public opinion.
"Maj. Mohammed Assrash & two guys whose names sound like phlegm loose in Cape Cod..." tweeted @GenGSPatton.
"Who's the genius that thought it was a good idea to drop off a bunch of Afghani Islamists at the Cape Cod Mall for an afternoon of shopping?" asked @RadioBlogger.
Boston College Assistant Professor of Political Science, Peter Krause, points out that although it's understandable that the public is concerned about the threat of terrorism in America, there was no indication that the soldiers had any ties to extremist organizations.
"I think it's natural for people to beconcernedabout a threat to the homeland, but I think in this situation the assumption is a flawed one," said Krause. "ISIS is not made up of Afghans, or members of the Afghan army. I think it's much more likely the soldiers are just trying to defect and get away from what is obviously a difficult situation in Afghanistan."
One of the goals of terrorist groups, like ISIS, is to instill a sense of pervasive fear, Krause said.
"You can't have terrorism unless people are terrorized. In that sense if you are acting very fearful, that is letting the people using these tactics win," said Krause, adding that the soldiers were at the U.S. army base with the mission of building camaraderie and stronger relations between the U.S. and the Afghan army.
"If people are linking [the soldiers] to terrorists, that is an overreaction that we need to guard against. We need to make sure people's general mental health is in a good place. If people aregoing to fly off the handle at any threat, or anyway push towards racial bias or are afraid to leave their homes, that is not a happy way to live your life, nor is it warranted by what happened this weekend."