The Boston Marathon Bombing: What Does It Mean, and Where Will It Lead Us?

By Jay Holmes

By now, you will have heard about the bombs that detonated at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013. Before offering opinions concerning that event, I would like to point out an important fact that is easy to miss as the United States and interested foreigners focus on the “who” and the “why” of the tragedy.

Boston Marathon Bombing image by Aaron "tango" Tang, wikimedia commons

Boston Marathon Bombing
image by Aaron “tango” Tang, wikimedia commons

I offer my thanks and admiration to the many bystanders that did so much to help the dozens of badly wounded victims. Several victims of the bombing lost limbs and yet did not bleed to death. This was due to the fact that many of those who were not wounded or not severely wounded reacted quickly and calmly.

For someone to survive the loss of a limb in an explosion requires the immediate application of first aid. While trained First Responders were fortunately present at the finish line, they faced the task of dealing with approximately one hundred seventy wounded people. Without the quick calm actions of many bystanders, the death toll would have been much higher than three. For the loved ones of the three victims who died, three no doubt seems like infinitely too many. Our sincere condolences to those families that mourn those losses, along with our humble encouragement to the dozens of badly wounded victims who are fighting to recover some measure of health.

The questions that loom largest in the minds of most Americans are, “Who did this?” and, “Why?” In the days immediately after the bombing, a variety of politicians and “journalists” offered their guesses about who was responsible and what their motives were. Many of those early guessers did little to hide their obvious personal political agendas when voicing their opinions and assumptions about the Boston Marathon Bombing.

Which politicians and journalists spouted the most asinine and annoying nonsense is a topic worthy of an entire article, but let’s leave that for another day.

On April 17, 2013, rumors circulated that the FBI had arrested a Saudi Arabian suspect. The FBI and Boston Police stated that no arrests had been made. Reports of an unscheduled meeting between US President Obama and the Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal fueled speculation that the White House was doing damage control in response to a supposed connection between Saudi al-Qaeda members and the Boston bombing. However, the White House said that the president had simply joined the meeting, which was already scheduled with other White House staff members and the Saudi Foreign Minister concerning the ongoing civil war in Syria. Thus far, no connection between al-Qaeda and the Boston bombing has been announced by the White House or by US government agencies involved in the investigation.

On April 18, the FBI released photos and videos of two bombing suspects. At about 10:00 p.m. that night, police received a report that one of the bombing suspects had robbed a convenience store. As police headed for the scene of the robbery, 26-year-old policeman Sean Collier of the nearby Massachusetts Institute of Technology responded to a report of a disturbance. He was allegedly murdered when the two bombing suspects attacked him.

The murderers of the MIT policeman are alleged to have subsequently hijacked an SUV and its owner. They forced the owner to withdraw $800 from an ATM, but later allowed him to leave as they continued their seemingly disorganized escape attempt in his SUV.

In the early morning hours of April 19, police located the bombing suspects. The details of the ensuing chase and shootout remain unclear, but the police were able to mortally wound 26-year-old Chechen immigrant Tamerlain Tsarnaev. Unfortunately, his 19-year-old brother and alleged accomplice in the bombing managed to escape the confrontation. Boston was placed in an “emergency lock-down” as the police conducted a manhunt for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

During the evening of April 19, a resident of the Boston suburb of Watertown noticed that the tarp covering his boat had been disturbed. He found a bleeding man hiding in the boat and alerted the police. After an hour long police action, the wounded Dzhokhar was taken into custody.

As Boston and the nation rejoiced in the capture of the two bombing suspects, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick reminded the public that “a million questions” remain to be answered. Given the stress of the last week, the governor can be excused for his exaggeration.

From my point of view, the most important questions are as follows. Were there any conspirators to the bombing beyond the two Chechen immigrant brothers? What were the motives of the two bombers and any other conspirators? How forthright will the current administration be in releasing information about any groups that may have conspired with the two bombers?

Some speculate that the two bombers were acting on behalf of the Chechnya Nationalist Movement. This is not altogether impossible, but it strikes me as unlikely. Chechen Islamic jihadis have fought in a number of conflicts, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and the current civil war in Syria. This can be compared to the fact that Jordanian, Saudi, Egyptian, and Syrian Islamic jihadis have taken part in various armed conflicts outside of their individual homelands. They were, in most cases, not acting as representatives of their home nations.

It seems likely to me that the older Tsarnaev brother would have received training from Chechen Islamic nationalists, as is common for young male Chechens. However, we don’t yet know if any ongoing relationship with any radical group in Chechnya existed, or if such a group had any foreknowledge or involvement in the Boston bombing. In the long struggle between Chechnya and Russia, Chechen nationalists thus far have cautiously avoided acquiring enemies beyond their formidable Russian opponents and their immediate neighbors. It would seem contrary to Chechen nationalist goals to instigate a conflict with the US. For those who are unfamiliar with the recent history of Chechnya and its war with the Soviet Union and now Russia, we will publish a brief outline of the history of Chechnya on Wednesday.

One of the more popular current theories about who else—if anyone—might be behind the Boston bombing is the theory that the two Chechen brothers might be working on behalf of al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda clone group. However, al-Qaeda is generally quick to claim credit for any crimes that they may have had a hand in, but, thus far, they have not claimed credit for the Boston bombing. This does not exclude the possibility that they or some less expert Islamic terror group was behind the bombing.

Early theories espoused by some were that “white supremacist” or “right-wing pro-gun radicals” or “tea party supporters” were behind the bombing. Since the apprehension of the two Chechen suspects, these ideas seem even more improbable than they did in the early hours after the attack. Also, although it might support marketing opportunities to excitedly proclaim that the Boston Marathon Bombing somehow represents a new type of threat to the American public, there is as of yet no evidence to suggest that.

Any nation that can remain free enough to avoid devolving into a totalitarian police state is, in its comparatively free state, going to be vulnerable to violent criminal attack. While the Boston bombing represents a new type of horror for the good people of Boston, criminals like the Tsarnaev brothers are not a new development.

While the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers and any other co-conspirators have yet to be clarified, another important question remains unanswered. To what degree, if at all, will the people of Boston, the people of the Massachusetts, and the people of the US respond to the tragedy with a greater willingness to surrender more civil rights in an attempt to gain more security?

25 comments on “The Boston Marathon Bombing: What Does It Mean, and Where Will It Lead Us?

  1. If the media had discovered that two Israeli boys had been behind the bombings, every rabbi in the country would have been apologizing to his or her congregations this weekend — and to the media. Each rabbi would have condemned the act as an act of terror and told the country and the world if that this single act of terror does not represent Judaism’s tenets or what the religion stands for. I am still waiting to hear who is really behind this hideous act of terror. I have not heard a single Iman come forward to express disgust by the actions of these two men. And THIS is what scares me most: the lack if remorse here.

  2. mairedubhtx says:

    Good questions all. And Renée makes an excellent point. As a Muslim, I am outraged at the actions of these two brothers. I sincerely hope that when I attend prayers on Friday I hear the oman say this act was an abomination. In my masjid, I will most likely hear this spoken.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Mariedubhtx. In international terms, Muslim leaders have spoken more in support of terrorism against any non-Muslims than against terrorism. I understand that most Muslims do not support terrorism, but overall, there is clearly a propensity in the international Muslim community to forgive and even encourage violence against non-Muslims and against Muslims of different sects.

      The majority of Muslim civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the US interventions were killed by other Muslims. I am told by many Muslims that Islam is a “religion of peace,” but the facts do not seem to support that statement.

      I am open to hearing information that indicates that Islam is a religion of peace. Please share with me your views.

  3. Julie Glover says:

    Excellent article. I also worry about lawmakers feeling the need to pass more laws to say they did something. That seems to be the knee-jerk reaction of politicians. Most of the time, though, such laws do little to ensure our security and at times infringe on our civil rights (especially the 4th Amendment, but don’t get me started…). What has likely improved our response to these situations is better enforcement of current laws and better coordination within law enforcement departments.

    My heart aches for those affected by this horrible attack, but I am glad that the two brothers responsible were found and held to account. If others were involved, I hope we track them down as well.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Julie. It seems to be a universal law that most politicians will respond to any situation by attempting to acquire more authority for themselves.

  4. Jenny Hansen says:

    You two always make me walk away understanding “the big picture” a little better. Thanks! 🙂

  5. Scot Bayless says:

    Thanks, Holmes, for spotting the bigger question in the horror of Boston. You’ve illustrated beautifully the propensity of various factions to use events like this to sell their ideologies. Once again, the Left instantly pushed the “Angry White Guy” theory or blamed American foreign policy. The Right started floating elaborate Al-Quaeda postulates and railed about “amnesty for illegals”. On both sides, there have been strident calls to “do something”. And “do something” we surely will. Get ready for even deeper intrusions in the name of “national security”.

    At the end of the day, ideology doesn’t matter. If you insist on giving up your freedom in return for the illusion of security, one morning you’ll wake up and realize you have nothing left to give – that the State owns you, body and soul. I used to say we’re a long way from that day. Now? Maybe not so far after all. Not unless we, all of us, stand up and acknowledge that liberty comes at a cost. The right to be free never has been free.

    “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin, 1775

  6. socritik says:

    “Which politicians and journalists spouted the most asinine and annoying nonsense is a topic worthy of an entire article, but let’s leave that for another day.”
    I would love to read that article someday! Cannot believe the quantity of opinions people are giving when a calm and complete analysis of what went wrong is needed. And I don’t mean the kind of analysis which will conclude “we should have been given more powers to nail them terrorists, and by more powers we mean keeping you under control”…agencies had all the power to investigate them for years.
    And maybe the United States should reconsider some of its international alliances too, you do not promise Al Nusra weapon deliveries and then just change your mind. When you are involved in so much international confilcts you cannot control the risk imminent from them.
    Meanwhile I hope the people of Boston keep running for peace.

  7. Andrew says:

    SECOND attempt at commenting. WordPress has been giving me fits since I started self hosting. Sheesh…

    Anyway. The point is that right now we don’t know enough about what happened. There is a lot of speculation out there, but that’s just that: speculation. I speculated it might be a Timothy McVeigh type, considering when and where it was. Mainly, I did that to prove a point that, at the time, we didn’t know enough to be saying we should kill all Muslims or round them up in internment camps (two things I heard during the craziness last week). Not that we should do either of those things, but it would be rather silly to go overboard and commit institutionalized hate crimes if said group wasn’t even remotely responsible for what happened, wouldn’t it?

    That’s the danger of speaking out of ignorance. Sometimes we like the sound of our own voices so much that more sensible people’s words don’t penetrate the veneer of BS. Sure, it turned out these guys were Muslim. To me that’s incidental. Islam doesn’t make people kill, no more than Christianity makes it easier for people to kill. Heck, you have Buddhists killing people in Myanmar now, and we’re advised (in some sects) to literally not even harm a fly.

    Like I said. Sometimes we start to believe our own BS. And as the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Perhaps in this case, shit sticks together (pardon my French). It all starts with ignorance, a human quality that transcends all boundaries of religion, nation, and creed. That’s what was behind this bombing more than anything else.

  8. Jess Witkins says:

    I appreciate the way in which you’ve written this article and given us a calm review of the news frenzy we’ve seen. It’s a heartbreaking tragedy, and I worry too about what the future will bring in terms of new laws. I don’t envy the weight upon our politicians and representatives’ shoulders at all right now.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Jess. Thank you for your kind assessment. While I don’t envy our legislators I have little cause to feel sorry for them.

  9. tomwisk says:

    Hi, when this went down I got on line and ranted. The asshat in me came out. I wanted vengeance, and so did a portion of the population. I’ve calmed some. Other things have come up: To the media, relatives of the suspects and pundits Right and Left, Shut the f**k up. We know, let us breathe. The authorities will find out what they need in time, to the Warhawks who want the remaining suspect treated as a combatant Shut up. We’re a nation of justice and reason, most of the time. To potential terrorists; Boston is one of the most divided cities in the U.S.. North ender vs. Southies, townies vs. students, college vs. college and anything else they can disagree on. When the Marathon Mutants set off the bomb Boston became cohesive. While I find “Boston Strong” and other rah-rah slogans so much BS to bolster those who aren’t true believer we should look to the quiet inner strength. Really to anyone thinking of terrorist activity; we’re waiting and this time the police might not get you.

    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Tomwisk. It’s natural for any community under attack to react emotionally. Fortunately the people of Boston have remained calm. There seems to be no climate of panic or irrational vengeance in Boston. A lesser community might be bombing mosques. I’m glad that as in New York and DC after 9-11, that is NOT happening in Boston.

  10. This is one of the most disturbing events: “early guessers did little to hide their obvious personal political agendas when voicing their opinions and assumptions about the Boston Marathon Bombing.”
    Let’s not wait for facts – or let’s ignore things – or let’s spin to suit our needs. Simply disgusting.
    Well written
    At this moment waiting to hear what the Canadians have to say about multiple arrest in major terrorist plot – NYC was a target.
    Risk is what we accept for freedom.

  11. Susan Spann says:

    Thank you for this, Holmes. It’s all too easy to find wild-eyed panic and finger-pointing in the days after something like this happens, and it’s refreshing to read a level-headed analysis of the situation. Thank you for being that voice of reason. (And C4.)

  12. Hi Holmes.

    Good write up as ever. I certainly hope this doesn’t introduce more departments, legislation, and paranoia. I think at least some of the reaction to 9/11 was overdone. The massive emphasis on air travel (which probably hasn’t reduced the potential for a reoccurrence that much) was a blinkered response. Anywhere people congregate could be an easy target. Weapons of all sorts can be purchased easily, and our borders are porous.

    Hopefully the people investigating this tragedy can stay out of the media’s glare and political leanings, and achieve something constructive.


    • Jay Holmes says:

      Hi Nigel. “I think at least some of the reaction to 9/11 was overdone” I remember listening to a congressman’s justification for financing the DHS and giving them broad powers. His excuse was “we need a central organization for examining and distributing intelligence.” When I pointed out to him that that’s why President Truman founded the CIA he seemed to be unable or unwilling to hear what I had said.

      Lets hope that in response to DHS’s lack of magic power to predict all human behavior we don’t decide to establish a “Central Homeland Security Agency”.

Talk to us. We talk back.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.