It wasn’t 9-11, but in the aftermath of that shattering Boston Marathon attack just after 3 p.m. on April 15, the echoes of the stunning September 11, 2001 attacks could be felt. It shook Americans again to the core. Police and military forces turned Boston and its suburbs into a militarized state. It was a case of shock followed by awe.
Now that one suspect has been killed and the other charged for the bombings that give the 117th Boston Marathon a special place in the pages of history, it is important to take stock of the lessons from this terrible episode.
First, alienation, victim-mindedness and resentment have a hold of the hearts and minds of individuals drawn into indoctrination that can lead to violent anti-America protest. Regardless of how others consider these horrible acts, those moved to acts of terrorism might consider themselves ‘doing God’s work’. When there is a sense that there is nothing left to lose, that the values of society hold no rewards for an individual, that the individual and others like him are victims of ‘the evil empire’, then extreme thinking and extreme behaviour can follow.
Second, American ‘exceptionalism’ makes that nation the biggest target. To one degree or another we all accept this notion of American exceptionalism. And that is in part the reason the U.S. has become such a target, even being attacked at mission outposts in places like Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan, Greece and Libya.
America set out to be different right from the start. It was a country founded in part on rejection of the old powers that held so many captive in Europe, from which the first settlers came. This was the place where there would be a separation of church and state, for example. It was the place where everything was going to be different. Americans believed it and the rest of the world followed along.
So when violent events take place in America, as they do in other parts of the world, the rest of the world takes particular notice. We could conclude that living in Canada, most of us so close to the Canada-U.S. border, we feel more connected to what happens there, but the reaction worldwide to the bombings in Boston, as with 9-11, is unequaled.
Third, this idea that America and Americans are somehow better than the rest of the world nurtures the narrative of America heroism. We witnessed an impressive show of people coming together. The sight of first responders running toward the explosion was remarkable when the instinctive response in a moment like a massive explosion might be to run away from it, not toward it. But that is what rescue workers – and ordinary folk – did. And many of the marathoners kept on running – to hospitals to donate blood.
The thinking, however, that this outpouring of compassion is uniquely American rather than a human response is what makes this notion of exceptionalism contentious.
Fourth, when a disaster is labeled an “act of terror”, it generates far more interest and fear than other disasters. The explosion at a fertilizer plant in the town of West, Texas, where four times the number of people died, some 200 were injured and blocks of residences completely destroyed, took second place to the bombings in Boston. As did the earthquake in Sichuan, China, where some 200 were killed, 12,000 injured and thousands left homeless.
When the better part of the Boston region was converted into a militarized zone one clear message was that any further acts of terror on American soil is in effect a suicide mission. The power and might of the American homeland forces were on full display.
Finally, when a headline-grabbing act of terror occurs in the U.S., Canadian political elements will try to show how they matter by tagging on to it. Hence, the timing of the announcement this week of the RCMP arrest of two men over alleged plots to bomb Via Rail trains, the culmination of a months-long investigation.
One more thing: People of Muslim faith in the U.S., and Canada for that matter, will now likely experience more duress. They will have to consider that like the so-called communists of the ‘Red Scare’ that gripped America during the Cold War era, they will be marked and hounded for their religious beliefs.