Another Boston Massacre

Another Boston Massacre

[caption id="attachment_55240564" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Flowers are placed beside a National Guardsman's vehicle near the scene of twin bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) Flowers are placed beside a National Guardsman's vehicle near the scene of twin bombings at the Boston Marathon on April 17, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)[/caption]I was visiting the Boston area, where I grew up, when two explosions went off on Monday at the world-renowned Boston Marathon, killing at least three people, including an eight-year-old boy, and injuring more than 170.

The bombings untethered a wave of familiar sentiments in Americans, which they last felt in December when a disturbed youth armed with military-style rifles massacred twenty schoolchildren and six teachers in a small Connecticut town: sorrow, anger, disgust and helplessness against those who use innocent people to make a point. It is not usually a point worth making.

“Today is a sad day for the City of Boston, for the running community, and for all those who were here to enjoy the 117th running of the Boston Marathon,” said the race’s sponsoring organization, the Boston Athletic Association. “What was intended to be a day of joy and celebration quickly became a day in which running a marathon was of little importance.”

The eight-year-old boy who was killed, Martin Richard, was with his family viewing the race, which had more than 24,000 runners. His six-year-old sister lost a leg and his mother suffered brain injuries, according to a Boston television station.

President Barack Obama made a special appearance before the television cameras at dinner time to express the nation’s sympathies to the families of those hurt and murdered. “We still do not know who did this or why. And people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts,” he said. “But make no mistake—we will get to the bottom of this. And we will find out who did this; we'll find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”

The next day, Tuesday, he said it was still unknown if the bombings were the work of an international or domestic organization or a “malevolent individual.”

Even before Obama warned about jumping to conclusions, media commentators scrupulously avoided speculating about who the perpetrators of the terrorist attack might be. Obviously, they had learned lessons from covering similar events in the past when early speculation, often blaming extremist Muslims, had proved erroneous.

Still, by the end of the day, news outlets reported that among hospitalized victims of the blasts whom they had questioned was a twenty-year-old Saudi student. His apartment was also searched. But by Tuesday morning, officials were telling reporters that he was not considered a suspect in the case.

Had he been involved, it would have been devastating news for the 70,000-plus Saudis studying in the United States on the King Abdullah Scholarship program. Americans have begun to move past their anger at Saudi Arabia after it became known that fifteen of the nineteen suicide-hijackers in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington were Saudis. A more nuanced and realistic view of Saudis generally is taking hold—one that does not automatically associate terrorism with the kingdom. These positive changes would have been set back by evidence of a Saudi national involved in the marathon terrorist attack.

Several leading American Muslim organizations condemned the bombings. "American Muslims, like Americans of all backgrounds, condemn in the strongest possible terms today's cowardly bomb attack on participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon,” Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, said in a statement. "We urge people of all faiths to pray for the victims and their loved ones and for the speedy recovery of those injured.”

Boston, the capital of Massachusetts, is one of the oldest cities in the United States and its residents played a major role in the American colonies’ revolt against British rule in 1776. The Boston Marathon is run on the state holiday Patriot’s Day, which commemorates the first battles of the American Revolution that took place in the Massachusetts towns of Lexington and Concord.

Nowadays, weapons are far more destructive and lethal than they were in colonial times 200 years ago. And despite Boston’s horror, it pales against what Iraqis have gone through since the 2003 US invasion and what Syrians are enduring today. Just this week Syrian opposition activists said that nearly thirty children were among the dead in government airstrikes on the northern Damascus suburb of Qaboun.

War is the ultimate terrorist event, because it never stays within the bounds of combatants. It always spreads to innocent civilians.

President Obama and his secretary of state, John F. Kerry, who incidentally represented Massachusetts when he was a US senator, have some difficult choices to make on Syria. Obama is coming under pressure to support the opposition militarily, or at least do more than Washington is already doing. An April 13 Washington Post editorial excoriated Obama’s “stubborn passivity” in declining to arm moderate Syrian rebels while noting that the most extremist jihadist rebel groups are well-armed.

For example, Jabhat Al-Nusra, which recently swore allegiance to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahri, is operating in thirteen of Syria’s fourteen provinces, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, Jr., told a congressional hearing April 11. Al-Nusra “is punching above its weight,”
 Clapper added, despite the fact that its fighters are fewer than those in other Syrian rebel groups.

But others in Washington are warning against US moves that, though well-intended, might intensify and prolong the fighting. “Growing US support for escalating the conflict will feed the far-fetched hopes of those seeking a military victory against Assad and a sectarian victory against Iran and Hezbollah,” wrote long-time Middle East analyst Geoffrey Aronson in Al-Monitor. This, he added, would “result not in victory but in a never-ending war of militias that could mark the end of Syria's post-World War II history of independence and sovereignty.”
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