NOTE: I wrote this last Thursday, before the Boston Police Department and Massachusetts State Police had their standoff with the murderous Tsarnaev brothers. I've decided not to change it to reflect subsequent events, including today's announcement by the White House that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be tried in criminal court, not as an enemy combatant.
Muslims did not bomb the Boston Marathon. As I write this, the investigation continues. I don’t know who left those bombs. I do not have special information or a lead that the FBI has overlooked. I know no more than anyone else not involved in the investigation.
But I do know that Muslims did not bomb the Boston Marathon this past Monday, and know as well that Muslims not carry out the 9/11 attacks, nor did right-wing anti-government fanatics carry out the 1995 truck-bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Criminals carried out these attacks, criminals and sociopaths, people who believed their political and religious obsessions legitimated the murder of hundreds or thousands of people. In the infected fever-swamps of their minds, these criminals viewed the lives they took and traumatized as less significant than their ridiculous- or irrelevant-to-the-rest-of-us beliefs. Because they didn’t seek money, even died in committing their crimes, we tend to think of them more as soldiers, less as criminals, but thinking so glamorizes their crimes. Where a mugger takes your wallet, these psychopaths steal fame and exposure for their doomed and stupid causes; they steal lives and hope and a sense of order. They wish to create in us a feeling of terror, an idea that the world might not be as stable as we believe—might, in fact, be so unstable that the terrorists’ idiot fantasies of the world as they think it should be could come to pass.
Whether the Boston Marathon bomber turns out to be a member of a radical Islamic sect or a Tea Party fanatic or a vituperative opponent of fluoridation, he or she will not primarily be that; he or she will primarily be a terrorist, a criminal and a psychopath. The overwhelming majority of Muslims, Tea Party members or opponents of fluoridation will not support the acts of the Boston bomber, and to implicate them in his or her act is to engage in the crudest form of guilt by association and to ignore the fact that almost all of the rest of the that group reject the terrorist’s actions. Americans remember the shock of seeing after 9/11 the footage of Palestinians celebrating the attacks, but forget that 99.99% of the Muslim world (and the rest of the world), including even Iran, condemned the attacks vigorously and unhesitatingly, as did, almost without exception, American Muslims.
The U.S. treated the 9/11 attacks as an act of war, rather than as a crime against its citizens and against humanity. But on whose part was 9/11 an act of war? What government sponsored it? We wasted tens of thousands of lives, hundreds of billions of dollars, pursuing military action against an abstract noun: “terror”. We walked barefoot and beltless with our personal liquids and gels on open display in plastic bags into a future where warrantless wiretaps, “extraordinary rendition” (that’s kidnapping and torture in English) and routine torture of prisoners became the norm. Rather than reaffirm the world as we knew it, the U.S. Government confirmed the terrorists’ worldview: the psychopaths had changed our society, making it conform to their delusions. Our in-over-his-head leader at the time claimed that the terrorists “hated us for our freedoms,” and so we gave up those freedoms in the name of security. Amidst the dismantling of 200 years of freedoms in the name of an illusory security, that feckless leader finally told us the truth: he wasn’t all that concerned about tracking down the criminals who’d committed atrocities against the United States and its people. He had relegated locating bin Laden to a back burner and dismissed punishing the criminals who had assaulted us.
We failed when we treated the 9/11 terrorists as soldiers—confirmed their view of themselves—and not as the miserable psychopaths they were. We failed in thinking of Al Qaeda as something completely other, and not as just another organized criminal conspiracy, no different from the Mafia, the Russian Mob or the Bloods and Crips. We do not—if we are sane—assume that every Italian we meet is a button man, every Russian a racketeer, every black person a gangbanger. In the past few days, irresponsible journalists have reported on several occasions that authorities had arrested “dark-skinned individuals” as suspects; in every case, these reports were unfounded, though that had little effect on those promulgating them: even after his paper’s “Bag Men” front-page headline had been thoroughly discredited, the New York Post’s editor declared “We stand by our story.” Given the public’s tendency to believe erroneous information long after it has been discredited (9/11 terrorists were Iraqis, WMDS found in Iraq, Obama cut Medicare), one might suspect that News Corp outlet of attempting to lay the foundation for another fallacious narrative: Muslims bombed the Boston Marathon. We cannot allow them to do this, nor to exploit the bigotry they hope to engender. Whoever bombed the Marathon, we must think of that person not as a soldier for his or her ridiculous cause, but as a criminal, different from a mugger or drive-by shooter only in magnitude. We do violence to our ideals as a nation, to our hopes for justice and to our own freedom to think of them otherwise.