19 April 2013

Endgame in Watertown

The situation remains volatile but as I write authorities in Massachusetts believe that one of the Boston Marathon bombers is dead, shot down during a firefight in Watertown last night, while his brother and alleged accomplice is either on the run or holed up somewhere in a locked-down metropolis. The suspects identified by cameras at the bombing scene are immigrants from the Caucusus region, which Russians know as the presumed source of much of the terrorism directed at their own country. From what we're hearing this morning, the answer to whether the bombers were Islamists or domestic creeps is "a little bit of both." The suspect's uncle, for one, has been quite vocal about them being maladjusted losers, though we should wait for less intimate or impassioned observations before drawing our own conclusions. Whatever their religious motivations, their alleged acts seem hard to tag as "international terrorism." Intelligence sources claim to have heard none of the typical "chatter" leading up to Monday's incident, though each reader will salt such remarks to taste. Whether the bombing had a foreign impetus or not, it may indicate -- again depending on the motivation -- that Islamic or Islamist terrorists have gotten over that obsession with "spectacular" terrorism on the September 2001 scale that may have prevented them from waging a smaller-scaled yet more effective campaign. Media coverage notwithstanding, the Marathon bombing was small-time in term of fatalities -- but media coverage is presumably part of the point, part of the goal for terrorists. It's always seemed possible that many attacks with few casualties, rather than few attacks with huge casualties, would terrorize greater numbers over a wider area. The effectiveness of any attack, in such a case, would depend on the duration of an overall campaign. If the suspects are guilty, they may have planned a more extensive campaign. That would explain why they didn't pull the sort of suicide stunt we identify with Muslim terrorism. On the other hand, the fact that whoever did the Marathon bombing wasn't interested in dying that day may be the best proof that the perpetrators were Americanized if not American. If the accused brothers are the bombers, they clearly underestimated the reach of American surveillance if they thought they could long get away with their scheme. Regardless of whether "Big Brother" is watching us, in the 21st century there are eyes everywhere, our smartphones and store security cameras forming a decentralized panopticon that can be recruited by or volunteered for government service. It proved hard to plant a bomb during a public event on the scale of the Boston Marathon without being noticed, even if only in retrospect. Suicide bombing may have been more realistic, given the real prospects of getting away -- though the suspects in this case might at least have tried to get out of Massachusetts between Monday and the publication yesterday of their pictures. One of them has died fighting and the other may yet do so, but for once it's probably fair to describe their alleged crime as cowardly. There's a lot of cowardly killing going on in the world, of course, and they may have imagined themselves avenging some of it, but that doesn't make these guys profiles in courage, whatever the remaining fugitive does now.


Anonymous said...

An Islamic terrorist or a terrorist who happens to be a muslim?

Samuel Wilson said...

Depends on what the essence of terrorism is. If there's a basic terrorist personality that simply reaches for whatever cause best justifies his violent impulses, then the cause is incidental. If a cause can actually motivate otherwise unmotivated people to commit violence, it'd be a different story. With the Tsarnaev brothers, presuming them guilty simply for discussion purposes, it's too soon to tell.