Take it seriously. It’s complicated

Published: Mon, 05/13/2013 - 08:48

Historic Copley Square is one of my favourite places in my adopted city of Boston. This year, where the runners at the annual Marathon cross the finish line past the majestic old public library, two explosions disrupted the idyllic scene on April 15. Over 280 people were injured, and three killed an eight-year-old boy, and two young women.

As the world felt Boston’s pain and prayed for the dead and injured, another collective prayer arose from many hearts: “Please don’t let the bombers be Muslim, don’t let this have a Pakistani connection.”

The bombers turned out to be two brothers of Chechen origin — Muslims, but, so far,  no Pakistani connection.

For Pakistanis, such mayhem is tragically familiar. Two years ago, a bomb outside my daughter’s former school in Karachi killed a teacher and her son. This year, 184 bomb blasts, from January 1 to April 14, killed 626, and injured 1,159 around the country (www.satp.org). In the run-up to the general election on May 11, extremists are targetting political rallies. On April 17, an attack in Peshawar killed 15 and on April 22, six were killed in Quetta.

Such bombings are rare in the US, but violent attacks are all too common. Horrific mass shootings last year included massacres at a cinema, a Sikh gurudwara, and an elementary school. In 2011, firearms, most obtained legally, killed 8,583 people.

 “It’s the same everywhere,” said my daughter after a drive-by shooting near our rental in Cambridge, Massachusetts, killed Charlene, a fellow student in their public high school, Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS). “People talk about how much better it is in America, but people get killed here too.”

The difference is how the authorities respond. Although Charlene’s killers remain at large, American police are trained, equipped, enabled to take their job seriously. Rogue officers who gun down suspects and fabricate evidence are exceptions, not the norm.

The response to the Boston bombing was intense. A citywide lockdown the morning after the suspects killed a police officer at MIT, a mile down the road from where we live, forced people to stay at home; schools and colleges, shops and public transport were shut down. Chillingly, the bomb suspects turned out to be living just down our lane, Norfolk Street.

“What would happen if we locked down a city after each attack? We’d be in perpetual paralysis,” commented a friend in Pakistan.

True, but if Pakistani authorities responded as seriously, we wouldn’t be in the present situation. Pakistan must urgently end the impunity with which criminals operate, train, empower; and enable police to do their job effectively, ensure that the criminal justice system works efficiently, introduce a witness protection plan.

America places value on its citizens’ lives. Which is the least any government should do, regardless of its disregard for ‘other’ citizens’ lives. 

The surviving bomb suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is a US citizen, being charged and tried under criminal law. His former classmates at CRLS, from where he graduated in 2011, are in shock. They include long-time Bostonians and those like him with immigrant backgrounds, and children of foreign fellows or faculty affiliated with nearby universities like Harvard.

Robin Young, the host of a National Public Radio show, gave a human face to the tragedy, realizing that Dzhokhar was the same “beautiful boy in tux” who had attended the prom party she hosted in 2011 for her nephew, Zolan Kanno-Youngs.  Zolan wrote in the Boston Globe about Dzhokhar, who never gave him a “bad vibe”:  “He was a captain on the Cambridge Rindge and Latin wrestling team, he was in the National Honor Society, he earned a scholarship to a four-year university. It seemed no one ever had a problem with Dzhokhar.”

He cannot comprehend what drove his friend, a well-liked, laid-back scholarship winner and athlete, to kill and maim innocents, throwing away his own life and potential.

“People don’t want to hear that Dzhokhar was such a popular kid, and I understand that,” said Young. “What he’s accused of is monstrous. Evil. And we want that person to fit the narrative of a loner. Outcast.”

But he wasn’t. Clearly, as Zolan commented, “something had happened”.

What is the difference between a person who commits a mass shooting or detonates a bomb, I wonder? Similar motives: create fear and kill innocents. Both are driven by hate, twisted minds, warped ideas of reality. How do we address these issues, prevent such incidents? Brute force is not the answer. So what is?

This story is from print issue of HardNews