Boston Marathon Bombings: Time to Rethink Terrorism, Again


Boston is reeling from the terrorist bombings that killed several innocent people, injured hundreds, and left a city paralyzed literally and figuratively for an entire week. Two Chechen brothers were deemed responsible for the tragedy and of them one survives – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is currently in hospital recovering from injuries and will hopefully be fit to stand trial for his participation in the orchestration of the marathon attacks. However, we need to view the attack in a different perspective as far as terrorism is concerned: the need for a political solution is more pressing than ever, as devolving to an eye-for-an-eye vendetta approach is not going to benefit anyone in the long run.

The attack on Boston is, fundamentally, no different than an attack in Baghdad, Karachi, Kabul or Beirut that claims innocent lives, scars families and destroys the social fabric of trust between people. The horror of the past week is no different than the horrors average people in other war-scarred parts of the world have to contend with on a daily basis, but it does reinforce an important fact: the world is an open, connected and integrating place with vast benefits, but even greater risks, where geography now plays second fiddle to technology. The events of 9/11 awoke us to that reality first, but the Boston attacks are a stark reminder that having an ocean on either side of the continent is not a security guarantee any longer.

Here is the key point we need to understand: motivation is now local and personal and the range of operation is global. In simpler terms, a NATO bombing run somewhere in Afghanistan that results in civilian casualties is a sufficient motivation for someone to orchestrate an asymmetrical attack inside the United States in retribution. Dissecting the logic, both sides are right: we are interested in neutralizing security threats to Western societies before they materialize, but the invasion of far-away lands in the pursuit of that goal creates a counter-force, where people don't necessarily agree with this point of view and choose to act correspondingly within the available means – thus, asymmetrical warfare. Unfortunately, from the overarching perspective, this eye-for-an-eye approach doesn't solve ours, or their problems and ends up being only a vicious circle of innocent deaths.

In framing both the Boston tragedy and the wider terrorism question, we need to resort to political means of doing so. The reasons for which the Tsarnaev brothers did what they did are not clear for now, but they will likely come around to focus on a personal motivation, when the surviving younger brother is interrogated in due time. Living in an open and accessible world, as we do, the politics need to reflect that reality much better through the realization that invasions rarely solve problems, today's freedom fighters are tomorrow's terrorists and asymmetrical warfare does not have a cure, before we find ourselves with the same slew of problems as before.

In order to understand the terrorism in the context of time and space, especially in respect to Chechnya, it is useful to look at the history of Russia's relations with Chechnya, which go back to the 16th century. This activity is beyond the limited scope of the article, but it would shed light on the influences that shaped the brothers and how their experience in America meshed with their prior construction as individuals.

From a political point of view, however, international terrorism happens in the context of an unstable, volatile, accessible and connected world. The solutions to it lie in a mix of military and political answers, but it is the latter of those that need to take the lead in the way of engagement, dialogue and the finding of common interest. Only then can we explain terrorism and find the appropriate ways to deal with, and not before.