Fear. Horror. Disgust. For me, that melancholy trinity defines the response to latest act of Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil, the hideous bombings at the Boston Marathon just over a week ago that left 3 dead and more than 260 injured (at least 15 were in critical condition).
Let’s start with the horror.
Martin Richard, age 8, was near the finish line watching the race with his family when one of the bombs detonated. He was killed by the blast, which riddled his body with shrapnel. His younger sister Jane lost a leg. That’s easy to say, isn’t it? “Lost a leg.” Sounds like “lost my glasses” or “lost my wallet.” But there’s this difference: you left your glasses behind a book on the nightstand. In Boston, a young girl had her leg blown off by two Islamic terrorists. And then there was Mrs. Richard. She was standing right next to the bomb and suffered a traumatic brain injury from the blast. That story can be told many times over. At least 14 people lost all or part of a limb, several of them more than one.
Horror is probably the central element of most terrorist attacks. How could it be otherwise? Terrorist attacks by definition target the innocent. A bunch of spectators at a marathon in Boston on an early spring day. What have any of them done to the bombers, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? Nothing. The destruction of those innocent lives is a brute, unassimilable horror that must forever exist outside the quotidian realities of everyday life.
But horror, although it is a central element in this barbaric episode, is not the only relevant emotion. There is also disgust. For me, disgust (fortified by a healthy dollop of contempt) is my prevailing response to what the hand-wringing, left-wing sentimentalists have to say about the Boston bombings, and especially what they have to say about the bombers themselves. I’ve already written about David Sirota’s emetic essay in Slate in which he expressed the hope that the bomber would turn our to be a “white American” while also dilating on the sin of “white male privilege.” The politically correct consensus has been bleating in perfect unison on this subject. First came the prediction and the fervent, trembling hope — the unspeakable yearning — that the perpetrator of this slaughter would turn out to be a tea partier, an anti-government right-winger, or at least a white male Christian of some description.
Alas, what the herd of independent minds got were Caucasians of a different sort, boys from a Muslim family born in or around Chechnya, whose personal web pages underscore what was there for all to see: “Outlook: Islam.” As I write, some Muslim groups are conducting an ad campaign to sanitize the word “jihad.” Forget about the chaps who blow up night clubs, who steer jet liners in skyscrapers, who see an infidel or a Jew and want to kill him. That’s not jihad. Really (they want us to believe) jihad is all about “self-realization,” striving to do one’s best, etc.
Except when it isn’t. Except when it means dropping a few IEDs on the streets of Boston and blowing 8-year-old boys to bits. “Jihad,” as Andrew McCarthy put it, “will not be wished away.”
Which doesn’t mean people aren’t busy wishing. “Willful blindness,” he writes, “remains the order of the day, as it has since the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993."
It’s the willful part, the obstinate determination not to see that makes the left-wing consensus on this issue so disgusting — that, and the unbearable aroma of self-righteousness.
We read in USA Today that the mosque frequented by the Tsarnaev brothers has ties to convicted terrorists, fugitives, and radical speakers. Surprised? Me neither. But that doesn’t prevent Marc Ambinder in The Week from railing against “the sin of essentialism” and warning that the conversation about Islam in America is “illogical and laced with bigotry.” For Ambinder, the real question is: “What is it about America that so alienates young men?”
So it’s our fault, is it, that these two Islamic terrorists murdered and maimed all those people in Boston? The CIA wanted the elder Tsarnaev on the terror watch list. The FBI had questioned him but found nothing suspicious. They should have looked a little harder.
Or so I think. Megan Garber, writing at The Atlantic, can’t understand that. “The Boston Bombers Were Muslim,” she writes, “So?” So, Megan, there is a connection between Islam and violence. Not all Muslims are bent on the destruction of Jews and infidels. True enough. But if you find someone who is bent on that destruction, it is rational to suppose, absent contravening evidence, that he is likely to be Muslim. Megan Garber laments the fact that “we turn to labels in times of crisis.” I lament the fact that Ms. Garber turns to the label of accusing people of turning to “labels” (an empty leftoid epithet of approximately the same cognitive value as “sustainable”) when what they are really doing is exercising rational caution and engaging in a perfectly justified calculation of probabilities.
I find the behavior of folks like Sirota, Ambinder, and Garber disgusting because I believe it excuses evil for that sake of a politically correct narrative. Tell Martin Richard about “the sin of essential.” Counsel his one-legged sister about why we shouldn’t attach “labels” to people. Tell her mother about the evils of “white male privilege.”
If the events in Boston elicit horror, if the left-wing response occasions disgust, there are other things that, I think, spark justifiable fear. The increasing militarization of the police in this country has provided grounds for concern for many years. Almost four years ago, Glenn Reynolds wrote an excellent piece on the subject for Popular Mechanics called "SWAT Overkill: The Danger of a Paramilitary Police Force." More and more police forces, it seems, are like that wacko character on Hill Street Blues who liked nothing better than dressing up in combat gear and assaulting a local malefactor with bazookas.
The so-called “voluntary lock-down” in Watertown — a more appropriate phrase might be “martial law” — offered a chilling spectacle for anyone who cherishes his personal freedom. Remember the Fourth Amendment? That guaranteed that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” Yet in Watertown, platoons of heavily armed police in combat gear went from house to house, guns drawn, banging down doors, screaming at people to come out of their own houses with their hands on their head. There were “a lot of big guns pointed at us,” said one Watertown resident. Several news outlets used the word “surreal” to describe this concentrated display of the coercive power of the state. What worries me is not that it is “surreal” but that it is, increasingly, all too real. And to what end? As Matthew Feeeney of Reason pointed out, Dzhokar Tsarnaev was caught after the lockdown was lifted and a homeowner stepped outside for a cigarette and noticed blood on his boat. The shock and awe show of intimidating police force might have made for dramatic TV, but it didn't get the bad guy. An alert private citizen was the instrument of that coup.
But let me backtrack from fear to disgust for a moment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has never met a freedom he didn’t wish to violate, has said that we need to change our interpretation of the Constitution in light of the the Boston terrorist attacks. I think we need to change our interpretation of the sorts of politicians we elect to safeguard our liberty. I recently wrote an introduction to a new edition of Richard Weaver’s classic Ideas Have Consequences. I began the essay with this epigraph from Weaver:
The past shows unvaryingly that when a people's freedom disappears, it goes not with a bang, but in silence amid the comfort of being cared for. That is the dire peril in the present trend toward statism. If freedom is not found accompanied by a willingness to resist, and to reject favors, rather than to give up what is intangible but precarious, it will not long be found at all.
The horrible events in Boston last week doubtless have many lessons for us. One of those lessons concerns the “willingness to resist” that Weaver talks about here. Do we, I wonder, still have it?