Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Déjà Vu in Boston

Scene form yesterday's horrific event in Boston - source: Gawker
Yesterday’s terrorist bombing in Boston should make one thing very clear. Something I already know. You cannot kill an idea.

Ever since 9/11 there has been a major effort by the world – in particular the United States – to prevent the kind of thing that happened yesterday. And for about 12 years it has been pretty much successful. But those efforts fell short yesterday.

The Boston Marathon was an ideal target for an attack like this. Lots of people in a relatively confined space.  Very ripe for maximum damage by a terrorist attack. Boston is not a little hick town. It is a major US city that knows how to protect itself. And the federal government via the Department of Homeland Security - I’m sure - put maximum effort into preventing this kind of attack.

I am absolutely convinced that to the best of human capacity no stone was left unturned in that goal. Every modern security innovation was probably utilized in service of that. And yet a terrorist managed to explode two very lethal bombs in that crowd killing 3 people and wounding over a hundred.  Some of them critically. Some of them losing limbs. Those bombs were built with shrapnel in them for maximum damage.

As of now officials are not commenting on who is responsible. Although a ‘Saudi National’ here on a student visa is being questioned – no blame has yet been assigned, or cause identified.  Nor do they know if it was an individual acting alone or acting as part of some group.

Evidence collected so far seems to indicate that whoever did this knew what he was doing. And probably got the know-how from Jihadist websites like ‘Inspire’ that advocate lone acts of terror for their cause and show people how to build bombs for maximum carnage.

This brings me to the obsession the US government has with Al Qaida and like minded terrorist organizations. I truly believe that the government is barking up the wrong tree. I don’t believe that there is one large Jihadist organization (or even a few) that directs their followers from on high. These groups are probably not that organized  and very likely not centralized… or even that big.

But they all do have one thing in common: A form of Islamist extremism that sees glory in death for their cause. This is what they preach and it is why some of the  more devout among them are willing to commit suicide for their cause. This explains 9/11. And it probably explains yesterday in Boston.  The problem is not Al Qaida or other groups like them. It is their ideals and their use of the internet to get their message out to the masses quickly. A message also picked up by non Islamists who have their own goals.

So going after an organization – no matter how big or little should not be the ultimate goal. Subduing Al Qaida or some other Jihadist group will not prevent the next Jihadist attack. It is the idea that must be dealt with.

I don’t know if Islamist/Jihadists are behind this particular event. It could be any one of variety of other fringe groups or people:  Anarchists, White Supremacists, Neo Nazis, crazed environmental terrorists, or just some insane person… who knows. There is no way to ever insure complete safety in this world from people like this – least of all from violent people with psychoses. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try. The US government is trying. But I think they ought to focus more on the ideas behind terror than they do on the people or organizations perpetrating them.

I don’t mean to say they should lighten up current security measures in public spaces that are likely targets. Far from it. They should probably increase security by learning what went wrong in Boston yesterday. But If I were the head of the US Counter Terrorism Unit, I would focus on what they believe rather on than on which group is calling the shots.

Al Qaida is but one of many groups like this. There are probably hundreds like them – all independent of each other.  But they all have one thing in common – an Islamist/Jihadist philosophy that in pursuit of their goals includes death and terror to innocent victims. One terrorist ‘sleeper cell’ in a city like New York or Chicago can exist for years before they strike. Meanwhile they assimilate themselves into society where they hide in plain sight while they wait for the ‘right’ opportunity.

That sleeper cell may be independent or they may belong to Al Qaida or any of the hundreds of Islamist/Jihadists. The point is that it really doesn’t matter if they do or they don’t. Their greater service is to Allah. Not to Al Qaida. They see themselves as serving  God’s goals. That is what really motivates them all. Not the goals of a particular organization. These organizations are about the ideals of Islamism, spreading them,  and how to go about achieving them by any means necessary - including terror.

How does one fight an idea? I don’t know. Nor will successfully fighting it prevent criminally insane people from doing something like this. But we ought to at least realize where most of the real problem lies.

A word about the events of yesterday. For me – as I’m sure was the case for most others - it was déjà vu. The magnitude was not nearly the same as 9/11. But the fact that the US was once again attacked in this way took me back to that September day in 2001. Viewing the scenes of carnage on TV made me recoil in much the same way I did on 9/11. But what I also saw was why America is called the Medina Shel Chesed.

When the first bomb exploded, there were dozens of people who immediately ran toward the explosion instead of running away from it. They saw fellow Americans in distress and in an instant became selfless first responders. Many acts of heroism took place yesterday in Boston by common people who originally came to view a marathon and cheer on the runners. 

These were ordinary Americans whose first impulse was Chesed toward others – disregarding their own personal safety. No doubt many lives were saved because of them.  My hat is off to this magnificent people – the people of the United States of America.