It is too early to speak about the Boston Marathon bombings, at least from a professional perspective. We must wait until the end of the investigations into this incident despite of all the noise that has been raised following the explosions in terms of the new media rushing, as expected, to begin the battle to settle scores and politicize this event. Some parties are also exploiting this to send political messages as part of a wider phenomenon where any local or international incident is taken as a pretext for political squabbling and attempts to undermine the other side.
More than 10 years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, and it is clear that the Western media, and the US media in particular—if we exclude the combative right-wing media—have learned their lesson. They did not rush to characterize the Boston bombings based only on suspicion; they have been very cautious not to harm the reputation of one of America’s most important social components, their Arab and Muslim citizens—not to mention foreign students from the Gulf, and particularly Saudi Arabia. Indeed, more than 6,000 such students are currently residing in the city of Boston, which is known for its excellent higher education institutes.
President Obama’s discourse following the bombing has been rational, while the statements of police commanders and spokesmen, along with security officials, have also reflected a lot of maturity. They have been very careful not to point fingers at any side when talking about this incident. This maturity deserves praise. As for the Arabs, we continue to suffer from something of a “guilt complex” following the 9/11 attacks. This results in feelings of horror whenever a terrorist incident takes place. The natural reaction to this is feelings of self-suspicion, and then exoneration.
The reality is that the country that has suffered most from the scourge of terrorism has been Saudi Arabia. In fact, much of Saudi Arabia’s official discourse—not to mention a large part of its social discourse—is devoted to dealing with this phenomenon. There is a lot of concern about the scholarship students studying abroad, and even the new measures concerning the “trusted traveler” program. These are all signs that show that a large portion of society is aware of the threat represented by terrorists exploiting the present recovery from Islamophobia.
And now, after all these years, we need to open a dialogue with ourselves more than at any time in the past. Extremist discourse sympathetic with Al-Qaeda’s ideology has become a global phenomenon that is finding a home in Western suburbs and streets more than Islamic countries, and I have previously written about the phenomenon of the “fair-haired terrorist.” This discourse continues to exploit such incidents in order to pressure the United States on certain issues based on a failed logic that says that killing, sabotage and destruction are justified so long as there are crises in the Middle East.
However terrorism has no color, nationality or religion, and this is something that will be confirmed in the next few days regardless of who perpetrated the Boston bombings. Every terrorist operation that wreaks havoc in the world today consolidates the belief that extremism and violence are never far from the surface, and this is not a mere passing phenomenon. The references and incentives for terrorist acts may differ, but their motivations and ideological discourse are always the same, particularly as fanaticism is not limited to any one religion or sect.
It is still unclear as to who was responsible for the Boston bombings, and what motivated this attack. Based on my own understanding of Al-Qaeda’s methodology, the Boston attacks do not bear their hallmarks. The type of explosives used, the way these bombs were made and the reaction following this incident (including the absence of any claims of responsibility so far) indicates that this attack was most likely carried out by a right-wing domestic group or a “lone wolf” sympathetic to a certain ideology or view. This is not to mention the current situation that Al-Qaeda finds itself in at this stage, in terms of its position in the post-Arab Spring world and its current strategy of relocation and restructuring.
The reaction toward the Boston Marathon bombing has been surprising, particularly if we look at it from different angles. The Western media, if we exclude the yellow press, have not fallen into the trap of stereotyping, as might have been expected. However, the new media platforms, most prominently Twitter, have been full of accusations. This is evidence that a number of our ideological and political trends have yet to overcome the Al-Qaeda complex, whether in terms of a guilt complex or viewing the terrorist group as an inspirational idea in an imagined battle with the West.
This stereotyping can be understood, but not justified, within the Western context. It can be understood within the framework of the philosophy of the imagined enemy, particularly as Al-Qaeda’s long history of terrorism has made it easy to point the finger of blame at the organization. In addition to this, the media is experiencing huge challenges in retaining credibility when sourcing its news, particularly in light of the huge competition between new and conventional media. However, what can in no way be understood or justified is the sense of joy that is being expressed in some corners, with the Boston attack being viewed as a punishment for Western and US inaction towards the Syrian crisis. This is something that demonstrates the problem that a broad range of Arab and Islamic intellectuals are having regarding the issue of terrorism. Terrorism is something that has nothing to do with religion, nor is this phenomenon based solely on protest movements, political marginalization or tyranny. This is an extremist ideology that might invoke all of the above, but which remains completely separate from other non-peaceful forms of expression. This is something that cannot be justified regardless of its perpetrators’ religious, ideological or geographical affiliation.
If we speak about Islamophobia in the context of every terrorist operation that takes place in the West, then we must open a sub-file regarding fears being raised about Saudi Arabia. This is a blatant politicization provoked by Saudi Arabia’s size and influence, and is not based on any acceptable logic. Even in terms of post-9/11 geopolitics, there has been a huge check in the growth and development of Al-Qaeda in places like Yemen, the Arab Maghreb, and now in Sinai, and even its sleeper cells in the West. This is due to the fact that Saudi Arabia took the decision to combat terrorism in a serious and effective manner, and top leadership figures have emphasized that this is a battle that is not expected to be over anytime soon.
The Boston bombings, which appear on the surface to be a domestic attack, are an appropriate opportunity for the Arabs to take stock of our guilt complex and the political opportunism that has begun to haunt many of our intellectuals, media figures and religious personalities. This is an important chance to take a tougher stance toward terrorism and also toward intimidation, regardless of who ultimately proves responsible for this tragic attack.