The marathon of hope
AS I lay awake listening to the nocturnal sounds of Dhaka, images of the Boston bombings kept replaying in my mind … a perfect spring day in Boston's Copley Square with happy crowds cheering the marathon runners, when all hell broke lose. Two blasts rocked the streets near the finish line, killing three people and injuring and maiming more than two hundred and sixty.
The FBI and Boston Police swiftly traced the two suspects -- Tsarnaev, 26, was killed in a police shoot out, while his brother Dzhokhar, 19, was wounded and captured. The two brothers of Chechen origin had been living in the United States for more than a decade. Reportedly they got their ideas about how to build a bomb with a pressure cooker from an online al-Qaeda magazine used for recruitment and radicalisation.
As expected, the media is abuzz with details of the incident. Op-eds, TV talk shows and internet blogs are busy presenting theories and counter theories about why and how the two accused committed this outrageous act of terror. Much of the news is focusing on one crucial question: what motivated the brutal killings? Since the crux of the media debate hinges on what we do not know rather than on what we know, it would be presumptuous to offer any answers or even pretend that I have any.
However, given the turbulent world we live in, one cannot remain impervious to terrorist acts and their cascading effects on citizens. Today, terrorism is not just a front-page news headline we read about -- it has arrived at our doorstep and invaded our comfort zone. Movie theaters, shopping malls, places of worship, streets and even schools have now become targets of terror. Whether these acts of terror are perpetrated by Islamic extremists or white supremacists or psychopaths, they all result in the loss of precious lives and cause an erosion of trust in society.
The overriding force guiding the terrorists seems to be hatred. They kill at will to establish their racial or religious superiority or to promote a misdirected ideology. Their actions may be motivated by some delusionary form of Islamic fanaticism or right wing extremism or separatism, but none of these "isms" can explain how killing children and innocent men and women helps further their cause.
For ordinary citizens it matters little what ideology (or lack of one) is driving the senseless violence. They go about their daily business with the primary purpose of ensuring a peaceful, secure life for their children and families. Unfortunately, they have very little control over those who, in the process of establishing their narrow vision of society, are driving the world to destruction and chaos.
Most terrorist acts may seem senseless but they end up spreading anger and discord. Common people are pulled into the vicious cycle of "them against us" resulting in rifts and divisions which undermine social cohesion and stability. But isn't that exactly what the terrorists want -- to stifle rational voices and strip our open societies of freedom and orderly discourse?
There are no definitive answers to the question of how governments and free societies should arrest the threat of micro-terrorism, particularly when it is constantly mutating. Improved intelligence and surveillance may reduce the frequency of attacks but they do little to minimise the stress common people face. Perhaps one way of dealing with the fear and anxiety caused by terror is to restore the trust that people have lost in their fellow human beings.
Tragic as the bombings have been, Boston may have taught us some valuable lessons. The entire city was involved in the hunt for the fugitive Chechen brothers thus reinforcing the concept of "community resistance" to terrorism. Boston also reiterated the fact that tragedy cannot diminish us but makes us stronger, if faced with courage and determination. In addition, President Obama's reassuring address to the nation within hours of the tragedy demonstrated how elected leaders could have a calming effect in a turbulent situation.
It may be appropriate to end this column with the inspiring story of the origin of the marathon. The event commemorates the fabled run of the ancient Greek soldier and messenger Pheidippides. Legend states that he was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated in Marathon, but were preparing to attack Athens. It is said that he ran 25 miles through a rugged terrain and burst into the Athenian assembly with the news and then collapsed. Pheidippides thus aided the Athenian victory, which marked the beginning of a Golden Age of vibrant democracy and intellectual freedom in Greece.
Perhaps, like Pheidippides, each one of us must run our own marathon of endurance to ensure that the ideals of pluralism and tolerance are preserved in the world.
The writer is a renowned Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.