Boston Marathon bombing

From the new May-June 2013 issue of News & Letters:

Boston bombing

The two bombs that exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day, April 15, have killed three people, about 180 more wounded, many shrapnel wounds leading to amputation. The bombs wreaked more damage than the previous notorious bomb set off in public space at a sports venue, at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by Eric Rudolph, the serial bomber of abortion clinics and gay bars.

The Boston Marathon bombing follows mass killings in the past year in an Aurora, Colo., theater, at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The body count might have risen sharply if the bombs had been of dynamite like what killed four little girls in 1963 at a Birmingham church, or of the fertilizer type that killed 168 people and destroyed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995, instead of relatively low-tech gunpowder bombs made by amateur bombers.

As we go to press, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is in custody after a historic lockdown of the Boston area, one day after his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout. Even before he was captured, there were calls to treat him as an enemy combatant, to send him to Guantanamo, to subject him to a military tribunal. Those calls continue, but authorities have delayed giving him his Miranda rights.

In the Patriot Act era, it was no surprise that even before there were suspects, politicians and talking heads were screaming for rooting out the international conspiracy. Like the harassment of anyone taken for an Arab in the days after the Oklahoma City bombing before Timothy McVeigh was arrested, CNN ran with the “scoop” that a “dark-skinned male” had been identified with surveillance cameras and had been arrested, but they could not identify the suspect’s accent.

The national chauvinists did not get the dark-skinned suspects they craved: the Tsarnaev brothers are U.S.-educated athletes and actual Caucasians–having lived in Dagestan and other areas of the Caucasus Mountains. Yet as Muslims they are treated as honorary brown-skinned people. Because they were ethnic Chechens, media demonization of Chechnya now sounds like what Russian President Vladimir Putin might say after another Russian massacre. Back in 1968 Sirhan Sirhan was one of the most hated men in the U.S. after he killed Presidential candidate Robert F Kennedy, avowedly over Middle East policy, yet the assassination was considered his own act, not the act of Palestinians. No longer.

Everyone is an instant expert on the Tsarnaevs’ life. Bush’s Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff urged special extra-constitutional surveillance for everyone like them (presumably youth from areas he does not like). But they seem to be true Americans–in the style of McVeigh. Studious over-achievers turning to mass killings is as American as apple pie. Gaining motivation from political Christianity or political Islam can result in even more depraved indifference.

–Bob McGuire

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