Boston is about us

By Alan Bean

When I recovered from the initial shock and horror of the Boston Marathon bombing, I automatically switched into advocacy mode.  “Please, God,” I thought, “don’t let the perpetrators turn out to be foreigners or immigrants.”

I am not proud of this reaction, but when you care about issues like immigration reform, every news event is filtered through a partisan lens.  How will this affect my cause?  Is it a disaster?  An opportunity?  A bit of both?

The catastrophe in Boston isn’t primarily about immigration or terrorism or public safety; it’s about the hundreds of people who still can’t believe what this senseless act did to the people they love.  We naturally identify with these people because we too are vulnerable to the power of chaos.

But we cannot identify with the two young men who casually deposited death-filled backpacks that would change countless lives forever.  Why would anyone want to do such a thing?  How could they they do it?  Did they think they were furthering some noble cause when they detonated their simple-but-deadly contraptions; or did they derive a sick species of pleasure from the pain and sorrow of innocent people?  

Little by little, fragments of truth are emerging and the finger-pointing has begun.  The FBI is accused of incompetence.  Some insist that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect, must be tried as an enemy combatant.  Those who defend the civil rights of every American (even those who commit heinous crimes) are denounced as sentimentalists.

And this is why my thoughts moved so quickly from the terror of the moment to the implications the tragedy in Boston might have for immigration reform.  The Evangelical Immigration Table had convened in Washington last week, hoping to steer the immigration debate toward compassion and away from fear.  Their carefully nuanced messaging was drowned out by the events in Boston and the explosion in the Texas community of West.  The twin explosions sucked all the oxygen out of the room; no other agenda stood a chance.

Is the immigration debate over?  Will the bipartisan “Gang of 8” be forced to the political sidelines?  Or will we have the good sense to realize that immigrants are no more inclined to choose violence than are homegrown natives?

The cohort responsible for most of the senseless violence is not characterized by any particular racial or cultural heritage.  Mass murderers tend to be white; most gang-related gun violence plays out in minority communities.  Immigrants are less inclined to violence than our native sons.

The only consistent factors seem to be gender and age–few of these killers are over thirty and many, like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, are still in their teens.  Virtually all are male.

What draws the adolescent male mind to thoughts of mayhem and massacre?  Perhaps this vicious fascination is innate, a vestige of our hardscrabble evolution.  But in our brave new world, mass carnage is celebrated by the movies and video games we produce.  The goal is to maximize profits, but the result is often catastrophic.

When the NRA blamed Hollywood, the gaming industry and inattention to mental health issues for the most recent spate of gun violence, many on the left sneered in contempt.   But Wayne Lapierre and company were as right to raise these issues as they were wrong to ignore the bizarre proliferation of unregulated firearms.  A nation that celebrates death, destruction and dismemberment in the realm of fantasy should not be surprised when, in the minds of a poisoned minority, these feverish dreams bleed into reality.

Perverse forms of entertainment are popular with male adolescents in Democratic, Republican and Libertarian families.  Sure, most kids (including most budding psychopaths) play these games and watch these movies with little adverse effect.  But my guess is that the merciless work of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was largely a reenactment of Adam Lanza’s killing spree in Newtown Connecticut and sprung from a similar source.

The apocalyptic fantasies festering on the far right are yet another variation on a distinctly American theme.

This isn’t about them; it’s about us.

We are witnessing the mirror opposite of Easter morning in which death triumphs over life.  We cannot say yes to the Risen Christ without saying no to this culture of carnage.  The only Christian response is to reject violence in all its forms.  Only then can our spirits welcome the Christ who triumphs over death and hell.

2 thoughts on “Boston is about us

  1. I’m working on an essay for the weekly newspaper that I’m entitling, “Stuff Happens?” In this less public venue I’ll go ahead and say it like it’s often said, “Shit happens.” Most of the bad stuff, aka shit, that makes the news doesn’t just happen, at least not without a happen-causer. A lot of bad stuff has happened (?) the last few months. I think of the horrible storm that struck the northeast last fall, the horrible shooting in Newtown, CT, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the explosion at West, Texas. (I live in West Texas, but not in West, Texas.)

    Of those four that come readily to mind only the hurricane that struck the northeastern states just “happened.” Some call it an Act of God. The other three are traceable to human action. In terms of cost in human lives those three can be ranked: (1) the Newtown Massacre; (2) the explosion in West, Texas; (3) and last, the Boston Marathon bombing.
    Regarding the most destructive in human life, a significant number of U.S. senators believe, or have been paid to believe, that the protection of an unrestricted right to bear arms overrides the need for legislated requirments of universal background checks and limitation of magazine capacity of firearms. A significant number of senators, but not a majority. A majority of senators voted yes; a minority kept an up or down vote from taking place. Forty-one senators can override the wishes of fifty-nine of their colleagues.

    The West, Texas explosion is traceable, not to intentional human malice. No one willed that explosion. But they willed the need for profits over the protection of the right to life. This is a right to life issue, as much as–nay more than–the issue of abortion.

    The Boston Bombing was apparently the work of two suspects who apparently wanted to be notice. They got their wish. They killed three people with their bombs, and wounded scores of others. They killed a police officer face to face who they thought was trying to apprehend them. Some senators placed the unregulated right to bear arms over the needs of people who need protection from that unregulated right. Many of these senators are now clamoring to deprive a citizen, who is still a suspect, of his constitutional right of a trial. His damage in terms of human life and property, was far less than that of those who allowed the West, Texas explosion.

    Back to the hurricane: Was it an Act of God or simply the result of the caprice of nature? Or was it at least partly the result of human agency in climate change. There’s quite a bit of evidence to support the theory of human agency in climate chaos.

    But at least two out of three of the instance of bad stuff “happening” have direct, demonstrable human action or lack thereof behing them. Most shit doesn’t just happen.

  2. There’s an op-ed in today’s (4-23) NY Times, “Only an Accident,” comparing the human loss of life and injury of the Boston Bombing and the West, Texas explosion. “We tend to discount” he says, that which is accidental as somehow less tragic, less interesting, less newsworthy than the mayhem of agency. Lives have been ‘lost’ in Texas, but in Boston, by God–lives have been ‘taken’.” I follow, and I agree. Lives taken in Boston were on purpose. Lives lost in Texas were not intended.
    But the policies which led to those lost lives–the company policy of profit over safety, the government policy of non-regulation–those are on purpose.
    And the company, and the governments of the US and of Texas, are culpable, by God. Those last two words are a theological statement, not an oath. By God!

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