Five Things to Remember as Boston Crisis Unfolds
The Boston Marathon bombing is a quick-moving story (a frenetic one, if you’re following on Twitter). And the facts, as CNN has learned, shift with seeming abandon. But certain patterns and questions are making themselves fairly obvious. So here goes:
1. The events of this week don’t represent a revolutionary development in the long battle against terrorism. Keep in mind, there have been a fairly significant number of aborted and disrupted attempts by jihadis (both organized and lone-wolf style) to kill civilians on American soil since the Sept. 11 attacks. If the Times Square bomb built by Faisal Shahzad in 2010 had exploded, we would have been looking, quite possibly, at far more deaths than those caused in Boston. (And it is not yet clear, despite preliminary indications, that these men were, in fact, motivated by radical Islam.)
What’s different here is that the bombers succeeded in killing, and terrorizing, in ways that even “successful” terrorists since Sept. 11 haven’t. Nidal Hasan is accused of killing more people at Fort Hood, Texas, but that massacre happened within the confines of a small space on a military base, not across a major metropolitan area.
2. It isn’t an overstatement to say that the U.S. has just entered the Era of the Suspicious Package. “See Something, Say Something,” an oft-heard slogan, is fairly well ignored in shopping malls and sports venues across most of the country. We will now see Israeli-style education campaigns to make the public aware of its responsibilities to report suspicious items.
3. The lone wolf poses challenges that networks don’t. There are few ways to penetrate a cell that consists of two brothers. And there is no drone that can read what a person is thinking. At least not yet.
4. I wrote earlier about resilience, about the need to move on as quickly as possible from terrorist incidents. To put it even more bluntly: The important thing for a society to do is to discourage wallowing. I’m not sure the American media will cooperate in this. Overdramatizing already dramatic events is a particular strength of ours, and milking these events of every ounce of emotion guarantees good ratings.
5. Finally, it appears that both terrorists in Boston were Muslim. It’s important to note that the great mass of the roughly 2.5 million American Muslims are horrified by events such as these, and radicals represent a vanishingly small percentage of the population. It can’t be overemphasized that we aren’t in a war with Islam as whole.
(Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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