Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Asking Some Questions In Boston

Acts of Terror

The world has witnessed one sure and steadfast truth: Americans refuse to be terrorized. Ultimately, that's what we'll remember from this week. That's what will remain. Stories of heroism and kindness, resolve and resilience, generosity and love.

U.S. President Barack Obama

Last week was a difficult one for residents of Boston. First, the bombing at the Boston Marathon and then the acts of violence that followed in the quiet suburb of Watertown have left residents of Boston feeling shock and numbness. Understandably so. These are indeed heinous actions, whose perpetrators acted with evil intent, with no motive or purpose other than to cause terror. News analysts, moderators and political leaders will ask why this happened. This is both necessary and important to obtain some resolution to what is considered an abnormal event.

While there are no shortage of possible answers for this unique act of terror, one of many that occur daily in the world, there are some general answers: terrorists are individuals or individual within groups who believe in the need to use violence to get their message across, whatever that might be. Such people have no regard for human life; they have lost all sense of humanity. This much is clear.

In the next days and weeks, there will be many articles looking at the background of these two young men, Tamerlan Tsarneav, 26 and his younger brother, Dzhokar A. Tsarnaev, 19. There will be questions on whether they held Islamist views and whether they were financed by third parties, notably, by al-Qaeda inspired groups. They will question whether they were radicalized in America. The articles will look at whether the war in Chechnya influenced their thinking, their actions. Other articles will examine their life in America, their schooling, their friendships and what are called cultural values, and how they did or did not adapt to American values. How one or both became nihilists is not yet clear, as is how much influence the older brother had on the younger, pulling him into his boiling cauldron of hate and violence. Some or all of these factors might be relevant.

And yet many of the articles will get it wrong, looking for simplicity in what is really full of complexity; human lives and what informs our thinking and actions cannot easily be dissected and layed out in a short article, or even in a long essay. It may well be that the actions of these two young men were motivated by visceral, personal reasons, and not ideological or religious ones. It could be that they acted completely independent of radical groups. Or not. We don't know and that bothers us. We want closure.

The answers will come, but I suspect not easily. It might be important to ask some pointed questions. We don't yet know what compelled these two brothers, seemingly normal in many respects, to commit acts of violence against their adopted land. Such questions need asking against a broader background where the U.S. Senate could not pass simple and reasonable gun-control legislation and where a culture of violence is prevalent and implicitly endorsed by too many people. Also implicit in the analysis of root causes is the difficulty that many immigrants face coming from another land and culture. It is called a sense of belonging.

None of this, of course, excuses or exonerates their actions. It never could.

While I agree with President Obama's sentiments on the resolve and kindness of America and of Americans, it still remains that the residents of Boston and of the United States need to address these questions, as painful as these might be. Ignoring these tough questions will not make them go away.


Here are some of the better articles:

1. The Boston Bombers Were Muslim, So? (The Atlantic: April 19)

2. Bombing Inquiry Turns To Motive and Russian Trip (New York Times: April 20)

3. Suspect With Foots in 2 Worlds, Perhaps Echoing Plots of the Past (New York Times: April 20)

4. ‘If you did it, explain yourself’: Canadian aunt says Boston Marathon bombing suspects had no motive (National Post; April 20)

5. Boston Bombing Suspects Raise New Terrorism Questions (National Geographic; April 20)

6. Chechnya and the bombs in Boston (The Economist; April 20)


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