Commentary Magazine


Topic: Boston terror attack

Sean Collier, RIP

Like much of the rest of America, I’ve been monitoring closely the events in Boston today, and came across this moving story about Sean Collier, the MIT police officer who was gunned down by the savages who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing. 

Mr. Collier sounded like a wonderful young man. Here’s an excerpt from the Boston.com story on Collier: “Through tears, his roommate — who trained with Collier at the police academy and did not provide his name — said Collier was ‘awesome,’ his only fault being that was he was too brave.” And this:

Somerville police Lt. William Rymill, who had known Collier for five years, said that in just two months, he would likely have fulfilled a longheld dream. Collier had scored high on a civil service exam, and was likely to be called to join the Somerville police department in June. “Anybody could relate to him. Sean could talk to anybody,” Rymill said. “The girls here in dispatch haven’t stopped crying.”

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Like much of the rest of America, I’ve been monitoring closely the events in Boston today, and came across this moving story about Sean Collier, the MIT police officer who was gunned down by the savages who perpetrated the Boston Marathon bombing. 

Mr. Collier sounded like a wonderful young man. Here’s an excerpt from the Boston.com story on Collier: “Through tears, his roommate — who trained with Collier at the police academy and did not provide his name — said Collier was ‘awesome,’ his only fault being that was he was too brave.” And this:

Somerville police Lt. William Rymill, who had known Collier for five years, said that in just two months, he would likely have fulfilled a longheld dream. Collier had scored high on a civil service exam, and was likely to be called to join the Somerville police department in June. “Anybody could relate to him. Sean could talk to anybody,” Rymill said. “The girls here in dispatch haven’t stopped crying.”

Holly Dixon, whose 28-year-old son, Travis, was Collier’s roommate in Somerville, said Collier loved camping and the outdoors and was incredibly generous. “He is one of the nicest guys you can imagine, funny, everybody liked him,” said Holly Dixon. “He was a nice, nice kid, who would do anything for you.”

Now he is dead, leaving a grieving family behind. Sometimes the good, the very good, do die young. 

Requiescat in pace.

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Terrorism and Immigration Reform

As more information filters in about the background of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, the country is beginning the process of trying to process the horror we have witnessed this week and put in some context that might impact our views on policy questions. What we know at the moment about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev isn’t much, but it is enough to already throw out some of the pet theories about “white Americans” that were floated this week by irresponsible writers. Others may now substitute that foolishness for new equally specious theories that will seek to connect these two legal immigrants who reportedly attained citizenship with the topic of immigration in order to spike any chance of passing legislation to reform the current system.

The main focus today and in the coming days should be about homegrown terrorism and the question of what factors served to radicalize these two young men. But as much as we should resist any attempt to impute guilt by association with all Chechen immigrants or even all Muslims, as opposed to Islamist radicals, there is a connection between this crime and the question of border security. As we examine how this plot eluded the attention of security officials and what, if any, connection the Tsarnaevs may have had with foreign terror groups, it’s worth pondering just how antiquated and useless many of our efforts to defend the border currently are.

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As more information filters in about the background of the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing, the country is beginning the process of trying to process the horror we have witnessed this week and put in some context that might impact our views on policy questions. What we know at the moment about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev isn’t much, but it is enough to already throw out some of the pet theories about “white Americans” that were floated this week by irresponsible writers. Others may now substitute that foolishness for new equally specious theories that will seek to connect these two legal immigrants who reportedly attained citizenship with the topic of immigration in order to spike any chance of passing legislation to reform the current system.

The main focus today and in the coming days should be about homegrown terrorism and the question of what factors served to radicalize these two young men. But as much as we should resist any attempt to impute guilt by association with all Chechen immigrants or even all Muslims, as opposed to Islamist radicals, there is a connection between this crime and the question of border security. As we examine how this plot eluded the attention of security officials and what, if any, connection the Tsarnaevs may have had with foreign terror groups, it’s worth pondering just how antiquated and useless many of our efforts to defend the border currently are.

The status quo on immigration and border security has brought us a situation where an estimated 11 million illegals currently live inside the United States. We know little about them and any talk about deporting them is pure fantasy. If this were changed to allow those illegals to come into the system and a modern computerized system of background checks were installed, perhaps not only would security be enhanced. It is also possible that the federal government would also not be expending so much of our scarce resources on attempting to round up chambermaids, busboys and migrant agricultural workers here trying to make a meager living doing jobs Americans don’t want. Those who try and confuse anti-terror efforts with that pointless endeavor are doing the country no favor.

The tale of the Tsarnaev brothers appears to be one in which immigrants who were shown compassion by the United States and given a chance for a new and better life turned on their new home. Their behavior, especially if it turns out to be motivated by radical anti-American Islamism, is a disgrace and an insult to the countless immigrants from abroad, including many Muslims, who have become loyal citizens, just as those who came from abroad in previous generations did.

But our feelings of disgust and anger at the Tsarnaevs must not be used to rationalize a continuation of our current failed immigration and border policy.

The more open and transparent our system becomes, the safer our nation will be.

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A Leader Who Wants to Understand Terror?

Most Americans don’t pay attention to Canadian politics. Indeed most U.S. citizens probably can’t even name the prime minister of our neighbor to the north. But the leader of one of Canada’s opposition parties gave us a reason to have something of a rooting interest the next time residents of the Great White North go to the polls. Justin Trudeau, the new head of Canada’s Liberal Party, reacted to the terrorist bombing in Boston on Monday with a curious declaration about the need to understand the people who had committed the atrocity. In an interview with the CBC, Trudeau gave a textbook definition of how not to speak about terrorism:

We have to look at the root causes. Now, we don’t know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from?

For anyone to be speaking of “root causes” of a horrible crime whose perpetrators and/or cause was yet unknown illustrates a knee-jerk reflex to appease criminals that ought to render the speaker ineligible for responsibility for any nation’s defense. Fortunately, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government’s exemplary support of Israel we noted on Tuesday, was quick to respond in exactly the fashion that Americans appreciate:

“When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes,” Harper told reporters. “You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.”

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Most Americans don’t pay attention to Canadian politics. Indeed most U.S. citizens probably can’t even name the prime minister of our neighbor to the north. But the leader of one of Canada’s opposition parties gave us a reason to have something of a rooting interest the next time residents of the Great White North go to the polls. Justin Trudeau, the new head of Canada’s Liberal Party, reacted to the terrorist bombing in Boston on Monday with a curious declaration about the need to understand the people who had committed the atrocity. In an interview with the CBC, Trudeau gave a textbook definition of how not to speak about terrorism:

We have to look at the root causes. Now, we don’t know now if it was terrorism or a single crazy or a domestic issue or a foreign issue. But there is no question that this happened because there is someone who feels completely excluded. Completely at war with innocents. At war with a society. And our approach has to be, okay, where do those tensions come from?

For anyone to be speaking of “root causes” of a horrible crime whose perpetrators and/or cause was yet unknown illustrates a knee-jerk reflex to appease criminals that ought to render the speaker ineligible for responsibility for any nation’s defense. Fortunately, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose government’s exemplary support of Israel we noted on Tuesday, was quick to respond in exactly the fashion that Americans appreciate:

“When you see this type of violent act, you do not sit around trying to rationalize it or make excuses for it or figure out its root causes,” Harper told reporters. “You condemn it categorically, and to the extent you can deal with the perpetrators, you deal with them as harshly as possible.”

Harper is right. Talk about understanding such “root causes” of terror is merely left-wing code for thinking of terrorism as a justified response to the West. It is bad enough to use that sort of language when speaking of al-Qaeda or Palestinian attacks on Israelis and Jews. To do so when discussing a terrorist attack whose purpose remains a mystery can only be characterized as idiocy.

Trudeau is a relative political neophyte whose main qualification is that he is the son of Pierre Elliot Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister for all but nine months of the period covering 1968 to 1984. He won a national party primary with 80 percent of the votes cast via the Internet and by phone to became the new Liberal leader this past weekend. Among the losing candidates was Deborah Coyne, his father’s mistress and the mother of the younger Trudeaus’s half-sister. Politics is clearly a complicated family business north of the border.

Under Harper’s leadership, Canada has assumed its rightful role as an American partner rather than a resentful smaller neighbor. Canadians tend to pride themselves on not being Americans, and Harper is often chided by his opponents for being too close to the United States as well as being Israel’s most faithful foreign friend. But one hopes that Canadians will recoil from a would-be prime minister who is more concerned with understanding the enemies of the West than in fighting them.

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Re: The Irresponsible Search for Bomb Scapegoats

In 2013, a terrorist attack is less a test of American mettle than American manners. Forks on your left, knives on your right, sane questions folded up and tucked discretely into breast pocket. Whatever you do, do not politicize (take seriously) the attack. And you must be open-minded (make sure to politicize).

Public speculation should only be of a self-demonizing nature. “I would caution folks jumping to conclusions about foreign terrorism,” wrote Esquire’s Charles Pierce hours after Monday’s deadly explosions in Boston, “to remember that this is the official Patriots Day holiday in Massachusetts, celebrating the Battles at Lexington and Concord, and that the actual date (April 19) was of some significance to, among other people, Tim McVeigh, because he fancied himself a waterer of the tree of liberty and the like.”

Thanks for the “caution.”

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In 2013, a terrorist attack is less a test of American mettle than American manners. Forks on your left, knives on your right, sane questions folded up and tucked discretely into breast pocket. Whatever you do, do not politicize (take seriously) the attack. And you must be open-minded (make sure to politicize).

Public speculation should only be of a self-demonizing nature. “I would caution folks jumping to conclusions about foreign terrorism,” wrote Esquire’s Charles Pierce hours after Monday’s deadly explosions in Boston, “to remember that this is the official Patriots Day holiday in Massachusetts, celebrating the Battles at Lexington and Concord, and that the actual date (April 19) was of some significance to, among other people, Tim McVeigh, because he fancied himself a waterer of the tree of liberty and the like.”

Thanks for the “caution.”

So maybe it’s knives on the left. The New York Times’s Nick Kristof weighed in with a post-bomb tweet: “explosion is a reminder that ATF needs a director. Shame on Senate Republicans for blocking apptment.” By the time he apologized the matter of how we talk about being maimed and killed had become a spectacle apart from the maiming and killing itself. And the spectacle was sad.

It used to be that when one news source had a hot story no one else was running it was called a scoop. Today it’s called “criminal.” The New York Post committed a terrible faux pas when it broke the news on Monday that authorities were looking into a “Saudi national” as a potential suspect. People weren’t done speculating about Tim McVeigh and the GOP. Presumably NBC and CBS understood that Americans needed time to be “open-minded,” so they didn’t report the same story until an hour or so later. By then the Post had already taken the hit for ruining the mood. 

Hours after that Barack Obama said a few words about the bombing. His sticking to the literal truth—that we didn’t (and don’t) know who was responsible—was one thing. But he spoke like an industrial CEO who’d been coached by lawyers after an on-site accident. Obama dished out the rhetoric of “mobilizing resources” and left it to a White House official, “who spoke on the condition of anonymity,” to leak to the country that we had just suffered a terrorist attack. No well-mannered individual would be caught dead speaking of terrorism in the wake of terrorism. 

Like all systems of manners, terrorist-attack etiquette isn’t a display of genuine sympathy or respect, but an acceptable front behind which all sorts of emotions fight it out. So Salon’s David Sirota can at least be commended for dropping the wait-and-see pose. “Let’s hope the Boston Marathon bomber is a white American,” he wrote on Wednesday. Sirota fears that because of “white privilege,” a non-white terrorist could lead to new policies he, Sirota, doesn’t like. “[N]on-white or developing-world terrorism suspects are often reflexively portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats — the kind potentially requiring everything from law enforcement action to military operations to civil liberties legislation to foreign policy shifts.” He then goes on at confusing length about what “white-privilege is” and what “white-privilege means.”

But Sirota demonstrates that white privilege means artfully tossing around the term “white privilege” without being the victim of non-white disadvantage. White-privilege is dismissing the thousands upon thousands of non-whites who know first-hand that Islamist terrorism is a systematic threat. White privilege, of the Sirota variety, means having the good fortune to choose which global scourges you can bear to fight and which you can dismiss as too costly. Above all, white privilege means pondering aloud the characteristics of your dream bomb-suspect, one who might help advance your political agenda (whether it be defense spending or defense cuts).

There is a good reason, alas, to hope that Islamist terrorists are not behind the Boston bombing. If such networks are once again committing successful attacks on the United States, we’ve been targeted at a moment of depressing cultural cowardice. It would mean that terrorists are killing us while we don’t dare even speak of the possibility. Yes, let’s hope it’s a lone wolf.

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Should Grief Impel Policy? Only Sometimes.

The public reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings appears, at least so far, to be exemplary. The shock over the crime and the sadness about the victims has been great, but it has not prevented the country from going about its business a day later. While we can expect heightened security measures wherever people gather in the coming days the country is, as it should be, carrying on and refusing to succumb to panic. There is great and understandable frustration about the lack of knowledge about the perpetrators and their motives, but at least for the moment that is not entirely a bad thing. The lack of information about the identity of the bombers or their motives is acting as a check on the impulse to jump to conclusions about the event. In the absence of a villain or a root cause, the Boston bombing is just a tragedy and not a political tool.

Yet as much as this gives us some space to think about Boston without the need to employ it in the service of some predictable meme, it should not obscure the difference between drawing reasonable conclusions from events and exploiting them. The contrast between Boston and the most recent national trauma in Newtown is not only in terms of the scale of the crime but in the way much of mainstream opinion makers are asking us to think about it.

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The public reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings appears, at least so far, to be exemplary. The shock over the crime and the sadness about the victims has been great, but it has not prevented the country from going about its business a day later. While we can expect heightened security measures wherever people gather in the coming days the country is, as it should be, carrying on and refusing to succumb to panic. There is great and understandable frustration about the lack of knowledge about the perpetrators and their motives, but at least for the moment that is not entirely a bad thing. The lack of information about the identity of the bombers or their motives is acting as a check on the impulse to jump to conclusions about the event. In the absence of a villain or a root cause, the Boston bombing is just a tragedy and not a political tool.

Yet as much as this gives us some space to think about Boston without the need to employ it in the service of some predictable meme, it should not obscure the difference between drawing reasonable conclusions from events and exploiting them. The contrast between Boston and the most recent national trauma in Newtown is not only in terms of the scale of the crime but in the way much of mainstream opinion makers are asking us to think about it.

It is true that that our current ignorance about the bombers prevents observers from using it to discuss a particular threat, be it radical right-wingers or Islamists. But once we do know the answers to our questions, there should be no reticence about conducting a public discussion about how best to deal with the source of the terror. That’s why those who are speaking about the need to avoid using Boston to rally concern about terrorism the way 9/11 focused the nation’s attention on the threat from al-Qaeda are wrong.

As much as some seem to desire to put us back in a 9/10/01 mentality about terrorism, the sense of urgency that followed 9/11/01 was not the product of George W. Bush’s fear mongering but a reasonable response to an atrocious attack on the United States. While not everything that followed in terms of U.S. policy turned out to be a brilliant success, there was nothing artificial or the product of deception about the need for America to start fighting back against the Islamist war on the West.

While the Boston attack is, thank God, not on the same scale as the assault on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11, the people who did this must also be tracked down and rooted out of their holes, be they somewhere in this country or, as in the case of al-Qaeda, on the other side of the earth. It is neither alarmist nor exploitive to say that if some group is behind this atrocity all its members and sympathizers must be considered dangerous enemies against whom the full force of American power must be used. There is, after all, a difference between a rational response to a specific threat and the desire to exploit a crime to promote a political response to an event that is not directly related to the crime in question.

This is instructive since so many of the people who are so insistent that Boston should not lead to a disproportionate government response to terrorism are often the same ones who have been asking to use Newtown as an excuse to enact far-reaching gun legislation.

Ever since the terrible events of December 14 when a madman murdered 20 children and six teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, there has been a constant refrain in the national press for Americans not to let go of their grief. There is widespread disgust about the notion that Americans have started to think dispassionately about the crime rather than be impelled by their horror into agreeing with whatever gun restrictions the president has urged the nation to adopt, even if they would not prevent another such crime. After Newtown, the very idea of the country keeping calm about guns in the way they are now being asked to lower their temperature about terrorists–no matter who they might be–is anathema. In that case, grief and fear are considered appropriate drivers of policy by liberals while terrorism may not be.

Those seeking explanations for why the president’s gun agenda has run into a ditch only months after Newtown should contemplate how fragile a political tool fear and emotion can be. If the post-9/11 concerns about terror persisted for years after that event it was because, in spite of mistakes the government may have made, the fears that event whipped up were not out of proportion to the event that generated them. If other events are not capable of sustaining political agendas, it may be because the connection between these crimes and the suggested policy response is not as strong as some might wish it to be.

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Call it Terror? Of Course.

As a tragic Patriot’s Day finally comes to a close, we are still left with few answers to too many questions about the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon. All we know is that the death toll has grown to three including one child and the number of wounded is now set at 144. We don’t know who committed this heinous act or why they did it, and those television pundits playing the guessing game as to whether it is the work of foreign terrorists or the domestic killers, Islamists or right-wing extremists, are embarrassing themselves and their networks. But there should be no doubt about the fact that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism.

There is some debate about the fact that President Obama chose not to use the word terror or terrorism in describing what happened. So long as there is so much that is unknown about these events caution is called for, so we won’t quibble about his use of the word on Monday. But with the bombs being described as loaded with anti-personnel shrapnel so as to maximize casualties there is no doubt that what has occurred is an act of terrorism.

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As a tragic Patriot’s Day finally comes to a close, we are still left with few answers to too many questions about the bomb attacks at the Boston Marathon. All we know is that the death toll has grown to three including one child and the number of wounded is now set at 144. We don’t know who committed this heinous act or why they did it, and those television pundits playing the guessing game as to whether it is the work of foreign terrorists or the domestic killers, Islamists or right-wing extremists, are embarrassing themselves and their networks. But there should be no doubt about the fact that what happened in Boston was an act of terrorism.

There is some debate about the fact that President Obama chose not to use the word terror or terrorism in describing what happened. So long as there is so much that is unknown about these events caution is called for, so we won’t quibble about his use of the word on Monday. But with the bombs being described as loaded with anti-personnel shrapnel so as to maximize casualties there is no doubt that what has occurred is an act of terrorism.

For the moment, we must sit back and wait as the authorities seek to find the answers needed to our questions and the murderers responsible for this atrocity. Those like the New York Times’s Ross Douthat and the Atlantic’s Bruce Schneier, who have written about the need for the country to “keep calm and carry on,” are exactly right. The life of the nation must continue even as we grieve for the dead and the many who were wounded and maimed.

But as much as we must not succumb to panic, it is vital in the days that will follow that we not lose sight of the need to treat terrorism, whether foreign or domestic, as more than just a matter for the police.

In the past few months, there has been a great deal of debate about whether the government has misused its powers in the course of conducting counter-terrorist operations. While there are legitimate questions to be posed about the use of drone attacks and other tactics, too much of what we heard in recent months spoke of the threat of terrorism as if it were merely a pretext for the administration to exceed its authority. Some even raised the possibility of absurd scenarios in which the government would attack innocent American citizens as part of some paranoid conspiracy theories.

No matter who set off the bombs in Boston or why they did it, this event should remind us that the United States remains locked in a struggle against terrorists that need no drone attacks to convince them to kill Americans. As much as we should hold our government accountable, the first responsibility of the president and our security services is to combat terrorists, no matter their origin or motive. Let’s hope this tragedy reminds more of us that treating this question as an excuse to vent foolish speculation about nonexistent government attacks on innocent Americans advances neither our civil liberties nor our security.  

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Terror in Boston

A short while ago, two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon took the lives of at least two persons and injured dozens. We do not yet know who was responsible for the crime or how exactly it was perpetrated, but as of the moment of this writing, it is believed that homemade bombs were the cause.

It is to be hoped that all those who write on public affairs will refrain from jumping to conclusions about what happened until we have some definitive information. Until that happens, let’s take a moment to pray for the families of the dead and for the recovery of the wounded.

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A short while ago, two explosions at the finish line of the Boston Marathon took the lives of at least two persons and injured dozens. We do not yet know who was responsible for the crime or how exactly it was perpetrated, but as of the moment of this writing, it is believed that homemade bombs were the cause.

It is to be hoped that all those who write on public affairs will refrain from jumping to conclusions about what happened until we have some definitive information. Until that happens, let’s take a moment to pray for the families of the dead and for the recovery of the wounded.

It should also be a moment to remember that whomever it was that did this and whatever motivation they might have had, we live in an age of terrorism. There is a tendency, as the memory of each terror attack fades, to drop back into an attitude of complacence and to treat these incidents as outside the norm and to lower both our vigilance about terror and to stop prioritizing counter-terrorist efforts. That should not happen again.

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