Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Questions Unanswered in Boston

Newspapers for sale on Newbury Street (Source: Boston.com)
Last night I spent a good portion on GChat, speaking with a friend in Boston talking about how surreal the entire scene was yesterday. We signed off, saying that we will know more tomorrow. When I woke up this morning and watched the various press conferences I realized that would not be the case. A few items would be clarified, but the bombing would still be shrouded in mystery. Who had done this? Why?

I think these questions have led to a small debate about what constitutes terrorism. When CNN made the editorial decision to call what happened in Boston yesterday a terror attack and then the president did not reciprocate in his evening presser, some wondered why.

Terrorism does not have a proper definition under international law. The common definition of terrorism is an act of violence that meets three criteria (and the US's definition seems to mimic this):
  1. A violent act intended to create fear or terror;
  2. Is perpetrated to further a religious, ideological and/or political cause;
  3. Deliberately targets or disregards the safety of non-combatants (civilians)
Yesterday's events definitely meet criteria 1 and 3. This was no accident and was meant to shatter the joy of the Massachusetts holiday and to shake this community to its core. Boston will bounce back; as Mayor Menino said we are a resilient city, but it would be hard to deny that this event has affected the city.

Yesterday's attack also shares a common terroristic trait: the cowardly targeting of civilians. Those gathered yesterday on Boylston to watch the end of the marathon were not state actors in wartime. They were innocent civilians gathered to celebrate the achievements of family and friends and enjoy the beginning of spring in Boston.

The question that many people are anxious to answer relates to motive. Who did this and why? Why bomb innocent civilians? What message was the bomber(s) trying to get across, if any? Until this is answered, we cannot say definitively that this is an act of terror.

While my hunch is that it is, we don't know that yet. The use of bombs at an event like this almost always indicates terrorism (with a few exceptions), but this could be the work of a deranged individual (think Aurora or Newtown) as opposed to someone trying to influence policy or misguidedly drive home some kind of ideology.

At the end of the day, though, this is simply semantics. Whether or not this falls under the pseudo-legal definition of terrorism will not bring back the victims. It will not repair the lives forever altered from senseless violence. It will not restore the atmosphere in Boston just prior to the attack. And that, in and of itself, is terrifying.

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