Boston: Another city, another bomb…

A cynic might well say: another city, another bomb. One becomes, sad to say, used to such things in the contemporary new world disorder. The bombing of the Boston Marathon on April 15th is just another case of terrorism – whether from an organization or an individual. But not, I think, when you know the place attacked I lived near Boston, Massachusetts, for three and a half years. I know the city quite well. I have walked along Boylston, where the attack happened.  Cynicism is not an option.

How then does one respond to such an attack?

First, do not let shock or outrage undermine moral and political judgment. Xenophobia and security clampdowns is the kind of reaction that perpetrators of acts of terror desire. It gives them a sense of retroactive justification: see, that’s the kind of people we’re are fighting against, tyrants and thugs!

To their credit, the United States’ administration – from President Obama to the Boston Police Department – has acted with admirable restraint so far. By their use of language (‘terror attack’ or ‘act of terror’ rather than ‘terrorist attack’ or ‘terrorism’) they have not leapt to any unsubstantiated conclusions: the bombing in Boston is a criminal case under investigation. So far (48 hours later as I write this) there are no obvious suspects, whether individual or group.

We may speculate about who did it. But such speculation must be based on evidence. The evidence as it stands rests largely on the type of bomb used: an improvised explosive device (IED) based upon what is called a ‘nail-bomb’.  While groups like Al Qaida have used these IEDs before, this is by no means conclusive evidence of their responsibility.

Domestic far right groups in the USA, who loathe Obama and liberal cities like Boston, are also possible suspects. There are also recorded cases of individuals (‘lone wolves’ like Timothy McVeigh and the Unabomber) who have committed acts of terror on US soil.

Sadly it is all too easy for any halfway-skilled ideologue or nutcase to make such a bomb. Indeed many experts have observed that the Boston bomb has all the characteristics of a ‘lone wolf’ attack. If so, the search for the perpetrator could take a long time for an individual acting alone is very hard to find.

The second challenge is not to allow events like the Boston bombing to undermine an open society. The temptation through fear, and the fear that government is not seen to be doing enough, is to crack down: heightened national security, new laws invading privacy and political freedoms, subversions of due process and rule of law. Apart from, as mentioned above, creating in some minds a sense of retroactive justification,  such ‘virtuous’ (state)terror is neither good nor effective.

It is not good: privacy, freedom of speech, and critical political engagement are its casualties. Nor is it effective: acts of terror happen, even in the most repressive societies.

We need to remember that Sin and Grace coexist in History, and will do till the Eschaton.

Fr Anthony Egan SJ
B.A. (Hons), M.A. (UCT), B.A. (Hons) (London), M.Div., S.T.L. (Weston), Ph.D. (Wits)

Fr Anthony Egan SJ has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand, where he currently teaches at the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for Spotlight. He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.
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