A Lesson From Boston -- and Baghdad

Last month, I barely escaped a bomb in Baghdad.

Last week, I barely escaped a bomb in Boston.

And on Thursday night, I experienced extreme violence again when MIT PD Officer Sean Collier was fatally shot at my school.

The theme that connects these events is that life is fragile no matter who you are and what continent you are on, and that evil is not limited to one group.

Twenty-seven minutes had passed since the two bombs exploded, and I stood frozen as thousands of dazed people streamed over the bridge that connects the Boston Marathon finish line to MIT.

I made eye contact with an aghast and athletic elderly man whose marathon medal indicated that he had escaped tragedy by a hair. "I just missed it. I just missed it," he said in consternation as he quickly passed by me.

In that instance, I became worried that my scarf, indicating my Muslim identity, connected me more to a rumored suspect at the time than the man. Earlier that day, I, too, had been at the finish line cheering on runners just like those streaming past me to escape the danger. My phone lit up as panicked loved ones inquired about my safety, and then a unique text popped on my screen with one statement: Baghdad?

The text was referring to where I had been two weeks prior when a series of blasts had, similarly, been too close to me for comfort.

Under a sandy, orange Baghdad sky, my aunt and I debated how to get to my grandmother's home between four routes. We were dealing with morning traffic and the reality that car bombs are more likely to be placed near checkpoints that pepper Baghdad's streets. The insurgents' rationale is simple: Higher density of people means a higher death toll. We chose the third route, and time would tell that the third route would be the one not disrupted by a car bomb. We heard about the first bomb when walking past a baker in my grandmother's neighborhood. My unphased aunt remarked, "God protected us. There was a blast on the second route. We'd better drink another cup of chai, the traffic on our route home is probably very heavy and dangerous now." Later, our driver commented: "Did you hear about the car bomb here earlier? We got lucky." At what point does a leap of faith become a dive into delusion, I pondered. I heard more anecdotes throughout the evening of additional explosions that affected all three of the routes that we had avoided.

In both cities, being at the right place at the wrong time privileged my safety, yet the contrasts between the situations were stark.

In Boston, I was able to immediately notify my global network of friends and family of my safety. I could stop and analyze maps to see how many times I had treaded past the bombsite that day before serendipity and a looming thesis deadline sent me back to campus.

In Baghdad, the five morning blasts that I had evaded were unmapped but confirmed through anecdotal sources. The faceless victim count in Baghdad was unknown but inevitable and its certainty was unquestioned among Iraqis.

In Boston -- like Baghdad -- innocent and now lifeless civilians happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. In both places, people just want to be safe, and cower from thoughts of bombs. Culprits in both places should be brought to justice, and this type of behavior needs to be stopped.

Last Thursday night into Friday morning, as I sat shocked in my dark room listening to sirens race across town, helicopters overhead, reports of an exploded grenade, broadcasts of a bomb robot lurking the streets, and the tragic news of two officers down -- it was just another reminder that no human being should live in this kind of fear or violence.

Last month, I barely escaped a bomb in Baghdad.

Last week, I barely escaped a bomb in Boston.

Today, I stand in solidarity with all those who are victims to these types of heinous crimes.