In the immediate hours and days after September 11, 2001 it became clear to most Americans that the values of tolerance and democracy - cornerstones of the “American dream ” - for which countless immigrants have journeyed to this land are at risk. In the 12 years since 9/11, and in the wake of combat fatigue from Afghanistan and the Iraq wars, many have become complacent - arguing that there is no longer a threat to our values or our lives.
Yet, the seeming period of homeland tranquility is only a result of internal security measures designed to prevent similar attacks. The threat to American domestic security is real and what appear to be isolated violent incidents over time are in fact part of a more insidious pattern that can be traced back to the influence of al-Qaeda and Islamist extremist infiltration.
On the flawless bright spring day of April 15, 2013 - Patriot’s Day in Massachusetts - explosions rocked the peaceful and festive finish line of the Boston Marathon, where hundreds of spectators and runners celebrated on Boylston Street. Two homemade bombs using pressure cookers had one goal – killing and injuring as many in the crowd as possible.
The bombs generated massive casualties – including the deaths of three (one an eight year old boy); the media broadcast the all-too-familiar bloody and horrific depictions of severed limbs and traumatized victims seen before in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, London and Madrid : Attacks on civilians in peaceful, open spaces where the element of surprise catches everyone off guard.
Though authorities were reluctant at first to identify terrorism (of any ideology) as a motive, it became clear on the Friday following the Boston bombing when suspect photographs were released, that the specter of Islamist terror had once again breached American soil. As revealed in the FBI interrogation, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev told investigators that he and his brother Tamerlan learned how to make the bombs from Inspire (an al-Qaeda Arabian Peninsula periodical featuring jihadi thought and terror methods).
A brother-in-law of the Tsarnaev brothers (Elmirza Khozhugov) stated that Tamerlan began visiting internet conspiracy sites as his Muslim faith became extremist. Tamerlan’s trajectory of radicalization suggests he was sympathetic to hard-line Salafi-Wahhabi currents – in other words, a proselyte of the al-Qaeda cause.
The Boston bombings shocked America - and the world. But the bombing of the Boston Marathon was far from an isolated incident of a naturalized American ‘gone bad.’ As with the 2002 attempt by US citizen Jose Padilla to detonate a ‘dirty’ bomb; the attempted bombing of Fort Dix in 2007; the June, 2009 Little Rock, Arkansas army recruitment office murders of two soldiers; the November, 2009 Fort Hood shooting (in which 13 were murdered and over 30 wounded); and the May 2010 attempted bombing of New York City’s Times Square - the Boston bombing was part of a pattern in which Islamist ideologues recruited, nurtured, and trained American citizens (or longstanding residents) to carry out violent terror acts against US targets.
This was no secret to the American intelligence community (nor, truthfully, to the Bush or Obama administrations). The chief architect and demagogue behind the strategy, Anwar al-Awlaki, was an American/Yemeni imam, assassinated by a 2011 American drone attack as a threat to national security and a chief al-Qaeda operative.
His death removed the head of the medusa but not before a vast infrastructure had been conceived and stealthily constructed within the US for identifying and fostering likely recruits to the cause of Islamist terror. This network continues to evolve - evidenced by the Tsarnaev brothers - obscured and protected by a deep-seated American reluctance, vouchsafed by Constitutional liberties, to question the loyalty of its immigrant citizens or their religious institutions.
Attempts to deflect attention and blame away from the threat of domestic Islamist terror cells abound: Witness the caricatured hysteria of Richard Falk (UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories) who conjured the ominous phantom of another global threat by blaming the Boston bombings on Israel: “(A)s long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy.”
National security in a post-9/11 world involves profiling and collecting intelligence that would prevent future attacks. Though Americans are weary after a decade of war and an enemy that seems to thrive on despair, coordinated and concerted efforts at the highest levels of government are imperative.
The Boston Marathon - over a century old - celebrates the vanquishing of endurance over adversity. Runners (whether they run one, or 26.2 miles) understand what it is to persevere despite pain, to overcome doubt and fatigue, to revel in the triumph that is simply finishing the race. Few (if any) sports are as inherently democratic as running; there are no other examples of competitive events in which professional athletes perform in the same venue as amateurs.
Most runners (aside from the very elite) compete not against others but for themselves - to gain a personal best time, to demonstrate victory over a battle against weight or other personal demons, to raise funds for a cherished charitable cause, to give moral support to those going through difficult times. Runners cheer for, encourage, and guide each other through the most challenging parts of the race - and depend on spectators to add their voices to the celebration of endurance that is the marathon.
The Tsarnaev brothers and their handlers attacked at the heart of one of the nation’s most revered sporting events and marred the purity of that experience. But they picked the wrong crowd to try and intimidate - the demonstrations of personal courage and heroism that marked the aftermath of the bombing, and the response of runners (and others) around the world to rally behind the victims - bear that out. Boston showed that vigilance and determination work and make us not only “Boston strong” but American safe and strong.
Article written by Nicole Brackman and Asaf Romirowsky
Nicole Brackman is a historian who writes extensively on Israeli and Middle Eastern politics. Asaf Romirowsky, is a Philadelphia-based Middle East analyst, is an adjunct scholar at the Middle East Forum
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