A reflection on the Boston blasts
With no clear political objective behind the Boston terrorist bombings and hardly any concrete success so far in interrogating the 19-year-old culprit Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the question remains as to what line the United States will take in responding to the first terrorist incident on its soil since the twin attacks on New York and Washington more than a decade ago.
The counterterrorist measures adopted since then have helped in securing mainland United States up until last week, though the Bush administration had adopted the elusive task of fighting terrorism. Being faithful to that mission meant that the US would take its armies to Afghanistan and Iraq, knocking down two regimes accused of supporting terrorist organizations such as Al-Qaeda but without achieving a clear-cut victory.
Rather the wars in these two fronts ended up with strategic gains for Iran, now the regional US archenemy. The US military moves helped in bringing down two enemies of Iran to its eastern and western borders and more importantly, exhausted the United States economically and politically to the extent that it hurried to pull out its troops from both countries without a clear outcome of the operation that lasted 10 years.
The irony of the Boston bombings lies in the fact that it was committed by naturalized American citizens. In fact, Tsarnaev lived in the United States longer than he had in Chechnya. In a way, he is a product of American society.
President Barak Obama was right to raise painstaking questions on why and how a person who had more safety and opportunity than that afforded to him by his country of origin could do this.
These are tough questions that can hardly be answered by Tsarnaev, even if his medical condition permits for a thorough investigation by the High Value Detainee Interrogation Team, which comprises representatives of the FBI, CIA and other law enforcement agents.
It is unlikely that the shocking event will be utilized to unleash mammoth American power in another attempt to redraw the map of the Middle East, seen as a breeding ground for terror.
For instance, following the Sept. 11 attacks of 2001, the neocons found a pretext to revive a dated plan to invade the region. On one hand, the cost of such operations is in itself prohibitive, and more importantly, the Middle East is itself in a state of turmoil, so much so that events could easily be influenced through the use of soft power, which seems to be happening anyway.
The other point is that the Boston terrorist attacks took place under the very eyes of the security forces that were deployed for protection. Checkpoints were set up, though no earlier suspicious signals that something might happen were intercepted and it took law-enforcement authorities several days to shut down part of the city and carry out house-to-house searches so as to get hold of Tsarnaev. All indications pointed to the limitation of intelligence and security in this respect.
What has been gathered so far is that the radicalization of the two brothers and their learning to use explosives stem to a large extent from a single source, the Internet and social media.
Will this be a new frontier in the war against terror? First, there is a need to accept the reality that certain individuals will go on a killing rampage for whatever reason.
Second, the difficulty in monitoring these groups becomes more difficult. The experience with the bottom line of Al-Qaeda is that they are willing to die to achieve what they see as their legitimate cause. The irony is that death, which is the ultimate punishment for such heinous crimes, is their ultimate prize.
The new development is that what could be targeted as an organization, even if it has only tens or hundreds of members, seems to be more fragmented, privatized and decentralized, where any individual can become radicalized and gain access to knowledge in using explosives through the Internet and its gateways.
That is a challenge for the Americans to face up to, but Muslims around the world are not spared either. The simple fact that the two implicated in the Boston bombings have an Islamic background highlights the problem. There will always be those who link the act of an individual to the religion at large. That places an added burden on Muslim communities, especially those in the Western countries, to behave rationally and compassionately as part of their newly adopted societies.