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Whatever Your Ideology, the Boston Bombing Proved It

04/22/2013 12:08 EDT | Updated 06/22/2013 05:12 EDT
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With one suspect dead, the other caught, and their week of bloody madness finally concluded, the story of the 2013 Boston bombing is at last approaching its dénouement.

The plot points and characters, which seemed so creepily mysterious on Monday, are now fairly clear: it was two young men responsible for the evils of last week, and said evils were almost certainly a byproduct of the older kid's late-life embrace of Islamic radicalism.

Though everyone's busily boning up on the Chechen civil war to find a bit of context for the Tsarnaev brothers' week of terror (their four murders being too stupid, pointless, and random to be dignified with any notions of "motive"), and the hateful swamp from which their nihilism emerged, this obsession with exoticism seems a bit off the mark. To extent the Tsarnaev terror provides any fresh insight into contemporary political feud's, the battles in question are domestic, not foreign.

Watching the web over the last six days, it's been breathtaking to observe how every single phase of the Boston bombing has been politicized by every single ideological faction. For such an incomprehensible act, it's sure proven a lot of things everyone already knew.

To lunatic conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and Glenn Beck, who already believe the American government brutalizes its citizens for fun and profit, Boston proved... well, that. If you're a paranoia alarmist who thinks that lunatic conspiracy theorists are taking over the internet, Boston surely proved that, too.

Far-left U.S.-bashers enjoy minimizing the importance of any tragedy featuring American victims, so, to these sorts, Boston demonstrated that the stupid Yankees (as usual) are a bunch of self-centred crybabies with no sense of perspective. This picture of Syrian peasants expressing passive-aggressive sympathy for Boston spread across many-a poli-sci undergrad's Facebook wall in the wake of the killings, usually accompanied by a BBC link about a bombing in Iraq, Yemen, or some other supposedly "ignored" corner of the American empire. To those who only express concern over third-world suffering as an excuse to ignore it in the first, Boston was a fine pretext.

Conservative neo-cons who see a jihadist lurking under every bed, meanwhile, were quick to brand the Tsarnaevs as America's latest enemy combatant in their global war on Islamo-fascism -- often before we even knew the Tsarnaevs existed. The Republican right's political agenda requires all acts of terror to flow from a single source in order to be strategically useful, so blaming Muslims is the gun they rarely wait to jump. War on Terror critics -- including, as I noted last week, several pundits in this country --  were no less hopeful that an angry white guy would get the blame, lest the Dick Cheney set find any rhetorical ammo for their upcoming invasion of Kyrgyzstan, or whatever.

Will the arrest of an Islamist provoke a fresh wave of anti-Muslim bigotry to sweep the land? That was the dogmatic prediction (hope?) of the political-correctness brigade, for whom "Islamophobia" is always a more heinous crime than whatever violence provoked it. There was much indignant tweeting about the overzealous arrest and interrogation of some suspicious-looking Saudi kid -- of course they would think the Saudi kid was suspicious-looking -- hanging near the bomb site. Elsewhere, civil libertarians are eagerly churning out long editorials about how denying Miranda Rights to young Dzhokhar is equally outrageous (mostly, I assume, by changing a few lines in their old Guantanamo Bay articles).

Immigration restrictionists say Boston proved immigration sucks. Gun nuts say it says something about the futility of gun control. Anti-gun nuts say the opposite. In short, the rainbow of ideologues willing to wave Boston's bloody shirt to promote their own cause is almost too diverse to summarize.  For all I know, PETA thought the attacks said something about the plight of Thanksgiving turkeys.

As more than one observer has noted, all this opportunistic hijacking of a national tragedy in the service of middling political agendas has been uncomfortably reminiscent of the immediate aftermath of 9/11, in which a similarly incomprehensible act provoked a similarly tasteless outpouring of I-told-you-sos and now-you-sees on a similarly lame assortment of barely-related topics.

That's not to say, of course, that it's universally impossible to raise valid political concerns at times of national trauma. Tragedies do beget chaos, and history has proven that chaos tends to be when authorities overstep, public opinion radicalizes, and threats to liberty, tolerance, and restraint are ignored by distracted eyes. Considered in a vacuum, most of the above critiques probably raise a decent point or two.

By problems arise when we cease being objective observers of the actual tragedy, its actual causes, actual impact, and actual aftermath, and instead conjure up some stereotypical concept of the thing in our minds -- a satisfying caricature that reinforces all of our pre-existing biases and hang-ups -- and react to that.

That was basically the lesson of 9-11; events that "change everything" rarely wind up changing very much. Partisans get a wee bit shriller with a couple new pieces of selectively-plucked evidence in their hands, but the basic tone and focus of our bitter, polarized political discourse remains more the same than ever.

This is why, when terror strikes, it's best to simply follow the news, mourn the dead, and move on.

Politicizing carnage may be bad taste, but it's truly awful politics.

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