It was not at all surprising that the bombs planted at the finish line of the Boston Marathon last month, would arouse strong emotions in America. The US apart from the 9/11 atrocity has been mostly inured from a repetition of such events. Three innocent spectators including an 8 year old boy lost their lives, a large number were injured with some losing their legs. The paramedics and first responders tended to the wounded effectively and in a discipline manner. This ameliorated the trauma which is inevitable in the wake of such a horrific incident; the United States is no stranger to the perpetration of random violence by mentally challenged or alienated persons. Mass killings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, the movie theater in Colorado and the recent horror at Newtown, Connecticut are somber etchings in the public consciousness. Earlier in 1995 Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had detonated a huge bomb outside the federal building in Oklahoma City killing and injuring hundreds of people. The building was totally destroyed.
What was distinctive about the Boston bombing was that it was the first attack of homegrown terrorism after 9/11 by two brothers of Chechen extraction. The elder brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a shootout with the police, was a permanent resident in the U.S. while his younger sibling Dhokzar Tsarnaev, 19, is a US citizen. The latter was captured alive though wounded. He will stand trial in due course and if convicted, could face the death penalty.
A large, affluent and powerful country such as the United States which in pursuit of its national interests has fought wars in a number of foreign theaters and more recently in Islamic Iraq and Afghanistan arouses hostility and anger among a cross-section of Muslims in the Middle East, Asia and parts of Africa. This alienation is seized upon and exploited by some extremist leaders who egg on impressionable young men to commit violence against the U.S. in revenge for alleged U.S. actions in the Middle East. Radical anti-US propaganda is also carried out by violent extremist groups such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates on the internet, which enables these groups to recruit adherents among some alienated and marginalized young Muslims who have become disenchanted with their life in America.
In the age we live in, it would be unrealistic to expect absolute security in any country. There are a smattering of individuals and groups of disaffected and disturbed persons almost everywhere, who feel no compunction in killing their fellow citizens for a variety of motives. Even in a tranquil country like Norway which stands according to the annual UN Human Development Report at the apex of human development, and which experiences a minimum of violent crime, a lone-wolf Norwegian terrorist killed over a hundred young students in a mindless orgy of violence a couple of years ago. A person of neo-fascist inclination, he was protesting, among other grievances, against what he considered rising immigration of Muslims in Europe. Lone-wolf terrorism is very difficult to anticipate and thwart in any country.
The best way to minimize (to the extent humanly possible) indiscriminate violence is through enhanced vigilance of the law enforcement authorities. In the US the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is in touch with imams of the many mosques which cater to the religious needs of American Muslims. The imams can be an invaluable source of information about young congregants whose behavior has started exhibiting radical ideas. Such persons can be dealt with appropriately before they embark upon any violent deeds.
Representative Peter King (D) in the wake of the Boston attack called for increased surveillance of Muslims in the US. Rightly so his views were strongly opposed by concerned groups. If ideas such as those espoused by King are put into practice, these will arouse anger and misunderstanding among American Muslims and virtually shut the door of mutual interaction between the DHS and American Muslims.
It is assumed that the DHS is keeping tabs on radical Muslim as well as non-Muslim groups. Any one of these groups is capable of committing violence against society. I believe that the DHS, FBI, and other agencies charged with law enforcement know well that the vast majority of American Muslims reported to be numbering between 5 to 7 million currently, are law abiding. These upwardly mobile communities have nothing in common with a minuscule fringe of alienated youth who are attracted to the radical path of violent extremism. The peaceful majority has in many cases helped law enforcement authorities in apprehending such persons. Therefore increased liaison between the two entities would reduce the possibility of terrorists’ acts. This is the lesson which should be internalized and acted upon after the tragedy enacted at the Boston Marathon.