In a 12-second period one year ago today, two homemade explosive devices tore holes in what had been a perfect spring day in Boston.
Thousands had lined up along Boylston Street for the 117th Boston Marathon. Nearly 27,000 runners ages 18 to over 80, from 96 countries, vied for their personal bests that day. But a year later, we mostly remember the chaos and the grief, those who were killed and those who were grievously injured. Three spectators, including an 8-year-old boy, lost their lives that day, and 264 others were injured.
The alleged bombers were two young brothers who lived in Boston. They were also Muslims from the Caucasus. What do their identities mean for how we now think about our world?
I know what it should not mean:
It should not mean that we treat immigrants as a threat. That category, after all, includes nearly all of us — or our parents or grandparents. It includes Albert Einstein and Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cary Grant and Charlie Chaplin, Henry Kissinger and Yo-Yo Ma. When we tell the world that we welcome "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free," we know that includes all types — even the tiny minority who may be imbalanced or homicidal. We take this risk as an expression of our unyielding belief in the larger American prospect in which immigrants have been a critical part.
It should also not mean that we see Muslims as any more likely to be violent extremists than anyone else. Since 2001, most U.S. terrorist plots that have been uncovered have not involved Muslims. They have been the work of a stew of anti-government militants, anarchists, white supremacists and other malcontents united only in their maladjustment and mental instability. The great majority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims share the common human desire for a peaceful and productive life.
Most of all, the marathon bombing should not mean that we stop running races or stop coming out to cheer. Should we tighten security? Of course, but where do we really find security? It can't be in merely building more walls between us and investing in thousands more closed-circuit cameras. We will not be saved by shrinking into safe rooms or scapegoating people of another faith. Especially when the bombers have come from those living among us, being "tough" could mean each of us turning against all others, treating everyone we meet as a potential enemy. We should remember, to our great shame, that we tried that immediately after Pearl Harbor, imprisoning those with a Japanese surname, regardless of their history, personality or patriotism.
When terrorist acts occur, many say, "they" — the perpetrators — "hate our values." Then those same voices, often enough, declare that we should respond by abandoning those same values in the name of "security." Is it not more powerful to affirm our values? Is it not a greater expression of strength to reassert our pride in the American way and our commitment to pursue it whatever the threat?
In the end, the pursuit of that ideal has always been our greatest strength, making us more admirable and appealing in the eyes of the world. And in order to influence people, we really do have to win friends. We should continue to offer refuge and model compassion, not just so that no more terrorists are created by our crude and ill-considered attempts at finding security, but because it is who we are.
Alexander Patico is the North American secretary for the Orthodox Christian Peace Fellowship and has worked over 30-years in the field of cross-cultural education and training. He lives with his wife in Columbia, Maryland. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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