ON THE same day that three people were killed at the Boston Marathon, terror bombings in Iraq and Somalia killed 37 people and 35 people, respectively.
Relax. You're not about to be lectured for having a stronger emotional response to the death of Boston's 8-year-old Martin Richard than to the deaths of children thousands of miles away. The important question isn't why we feel more love and empathy for those who live closer to home–but why we're discouraged by some of the most powerful institutions in society from extending these powerful emotions at all to victims in other parts of the world.
Imagine for a moment President Obama taking a minute after the Boston Marathon bombing to extend our national mourning to the dead from the bombings in Iraq and Somalia, on the grounds that all human life is equally sacred.
Such a simple, noble sentiment would have sent Fox News–and plenty of others–into a foaming rage. What a damning indictment of patriotism.
After a bombing, any reference to the wider context of global violence–especially if that violence has the fingerprints of the Pentagon on it–is immediately denounced as "politicizing" a tragedy. But politics is actually the reason why we don't equally mourn all the victims of violence, regardless of nationality, from those maimed by IEDs to those killed by abusive husbands.
Those who claim to be guarding our collective grief from crass exploitation and politicization should focus on the Islamophobes in the media who spent last week spreading lies about "dark-skinned" and "Saudi" suspects–or Republican Sen. Charles Grassley's lame pathetic attempt to use the bombing as an argument for tighter restrictions on immigration. But not gun control, of course–the Republicans united to defeat new legislation just days after the bombings.
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THE BIGOTRY and scapegoating toward Arabs and Muslims are a continuation of trends that have been on the rise since the September 11 attacks more than a decade ago.
In other ways, however, the public reaction to the Marathon bombings might turn out to be different. Boston produced all the grief, rage and trauma of previous terror scares, but there's no longer a sense of shock.
That's because violent national tragedies are becoming regular occurrences, and "terrorism"–if we use the term the way our media does, only describing the deeds of Arabs and Muslims–has not been the primary culprit in most cases.
The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was a rock through the windshield of America's sense of isolated security. Most of us were shocked that living inside the richest and most powerful nation in history did not make us immune to the sickness and hatred of a world our government helped create. For the next decade, American politics revolved around the demand for a return to the old invulnerability.
In The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, Tom Engelhardt describes how 9/11 reverberated through the following decade:
The Brookings Institution's Bruce Reidel told the Wall Street Journal that Boston was "the counter-terrorist community's worst nightmare, homegrown, self-radicalizing terrorism that learns its skill set off the Internet."
The most militarized police forces imaginable can't prevent this seeming increase in the number of people here who want to commit horrific public violence. On the contrary, there is plenty of reason to think that the glorification of state power and violence makes the problem worse.
Until the suspects were identified, everybody feverishly wondered if the attacker was affiliated with Islamist networks or the American far right, as if that's the essential question. Either way, the root cause of both vengeful sleeper cells and paranoid racist militias is what Martin Luther King once called "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world": the U.S. government.
Of course, many people will angrily object to this point. They think we should continue to pretend that the U.S. can carry out a worldwide policy of assassinations, torture, night raids and stoking sectarian violence–justified by airwaves filled with racist poison–and not expect there to be any consequences back in the homeland.
In the same speech, Martin Luther King also pointed out that "the bombs in Vietnam explode at home." He was referring to the gutting of anti-poverty programs to pay for war. Certainly nothing has changed in that regard, but today, King's words are true in a more literal sense, as the bombs–and assault rifles, drones and Special Ops forces–in countless foreign lands explode at home in so many ways.
Meanwhile the urgent war that needs to be fought against climate change cannot be effectively waged until people of all nations unite and fight as one species. So we better start reconditioning ourselves to mourn equally for the dead of Baghdad and Boston.