Lessons From the Boston Bombing: A Global View

As I reflect on the Boston bombing as a resident of Cambridge/Somerville, as a Bostonian, and someone whose own institution suffered a tragic loss of a member of our own community, these are some preliminary lessons which I am drawing from the attack from a global perspective.

  1. We ignore the suffering of others at our own peril. For too many years, the West has turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Chechens at the hands of the Russian Government, and generally of the Muslim populations suffering under the autocratic rule of despots in the Caucasus and Central Asia. From Kyrgyzstan to Turkmenistan, the West has cultivated and collaborated with violent and despotic rulers, overlooking their human rights records, all in the name of fighting the global war on terror. It now appears as though this influenced the Boston bombers. Although its track record is uninspiring so far, the West needs to realize the folly of its current ways of supporting dictators and overlooking oppression for short-term gain.
  2. The frenzy of war-making on the rest by the West has to stop. Like the man with the proverbial hammer, it has framed every problem in the Third World as a nail and smashed its own fingers while going at them. The Boston bombers are said to have been inspired to act by their opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They may have been inspired by the hated consequences of the drone wars. The military-industrial complex has constructed every act of violence as an act of terror and thus created a self-perpetuating need for itself. Disgusting as these acts of violence are, if everything is terror, then nothing is. The so-called low-intensity warfare even as the other wars in Iraq and Afghanistan draw to a "close", has poured oil into the fire and generated far too much hatred against the West. It needs to stop. We need a respite from war for at least a few generations to begin with.
  3. The Internet is a force multiplier for lone wolves like the Boston bombers, who then 'self-radicalize' themselves. This has long been known but we now have immediate evidence. The Internet needs to be governed better with better regulation of violent material available for self-radicalizers. Since governments cannot be trusted always to do this, better regulation needs to be backed by better guarantees against abuse. This regulation needs to be international to be effective. Now, the global governance of the Internet limps along, while it is a free-for-all for those who wish to use it for destructive purposes.
  4. The call by Republican senators to hold Dzokhar Tsarnaev as an 'enemy combatant' is wrong because it is illegal and the Obama Administration has rightly rejected it. However, the Obama Administration needs to reject many of the wrong-headed actions of the Bush Administration on the war on terror, which it has continued. Only a complete return to a legal and ethical path will recover some of the so-called lost moral high ground, which America wants to occupy. Only such a complete repudiation will help America gain the moral esteem of the world and better ensure its own safety.

There is much to do but here is a short list. First, there needs to be an end to Guantanamo. It is a disgrace that President Obama is unable to close it down after making a promise to that effect soon after assuming office in his first term. As of this week, a majority of detainees at Guantanamo are on hunger strike and many are being force-fed through their nose. They are on a hunger strike against their indefinite detention. This is a blot, a crime from which America has no redemption until it closes it down.

Second, impunity needs to end. No one in power ever pays for their mistakes in America, from the killings at My Lai in Vietnam, to the illegality of the Iraq invasion, to the horrors of the attack on Fallujah to the 'collateral damage' of hundreds of children's deaths in drone wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. Even as we were digesting news of the Boston bombing, a bipartisan report based on a two-year study has found 'indisputable' evidence of torture for which the highest U..S officials bear responsibility. Will this lead to any action? America cannot call itself a state based on 'rule of law' if no one is ever held accountable for criminal acts -- for that's what they are. The intellectual class is sublimely oblivious to the negative repercussions of impunity around the world. The failure by America to acknowledge its crimes and mistakes leads to increasing resentment and eventually rage. We get blowback.

No one can assure a perfectly safe future. Public spaces in democratic countries will always be risky, but they do not need to become murderous. It is within our power to reduce the chances of future attacks if we live by our own ideals and promises, and treat others not as lesser humans.