Twenty-four hours after the shock and horror of the Boston bombings, America was busy reassuring itself and shoring up public morale. Politicians and public officials, from the president on down, applauded the courage and the selflessness shown by doctors, emergency crews, marathon runners and regular citizens in the hours after the double blasts on Boylston Street.
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“If you want to know who we are, what America is, how we respond to evil - that’s it. Selflessly. Compassionately. Unafraid,” President Barack Obama said.
The instinctive and inevitable association in people’s minds, despite the immeasurable difference in scope and carnage, was, after all, to September 11, 2001, if only because of the video clips being shown in endless loops depicting the travesty in its most terrifyingly minute details. “When we heard the second boom, we knew it was a terror attack,” several bystanders said, against a backdrop of panic-stricken people running through smoke-filled streets, in an eerie echo of that infamous New York morning almost 12 years ago.
For Israeli observers, the deja vu was slightly different but no less harrowing. The blown out shop windows, the medics frantically stemming the blood of the moaning wounded lying on the sidewalks, the little children crying as their parents sought refuge, the stern doctor reporting on the situation of the wounded at the entrance to the hospital and the endless parade of politicians pledging that the perpetrators “will be brought to justice” - all of these were like a 10-year-old reprise of scenes that were so terribly familiar a decade ago in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, suddenly transported through time and space to the metropolis of New England.
The only thing missing were the inevitable gangs of right-wing hooligans shouting “death to the Arabs” in front of TV cameras, but who knows, their time might also come.
As investigators sieved through mountains of evidence and experts debated whether pressure-cooker bombs point to domestic or international terrorists, the media could hardly contain their preferences, depending on their respective point of view. Some on the right were pulling for the Saudi “person of interest” detained for questioning as a lead to a jihadi connection that would confirm their basic weltanschauung and possibly chip away at President Obama’s good credit in the fight against terror. Others on the left appeared to be rooting for radical right wing types with shades of a (Boston) Tea Party, relying, inter alia, on the “Patriot Day” timing chosen by both the Boston bombers and by Timothy McVeigh in the 1995 Oklahoma federal building bombing in which 168 people were killed.
Just as the 9/11 attacks were portrayed as a blow to the symbols of Wall Street and American capitalism, there was an underlying potency to the disruption of a world class marathon in a city which takes such pride in its adoration of sports - and of a deadly attack in one of the historic birthplaces of America itself. The injuries were not only to body and soul, but to America’s pride and sense of heritage as well.
Beyond the need to apprehend the bombers in order to ensure that they do not repeat their crimes, their identity could have wide-ranging repercussions for American politics as well. The reemergence of terrorists linked to radical Islam could change the mood of the American public and revert it to the fear-filled, xenophobic days of post 9/11; domestic terrorists, unless proven to be part of wide conspiracy, might be quickly forgotten. And a lone, unaffiliated bomber with obscure motives will render the killings, ironically, even more inexplicable and senseless.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” President Franklin Roosevelt said 80 years ago, and Israelis will readily concur. Monday, America put on a brave face and showed a solid front, but if Boston turns out to be more than an isolated incident, the debilitating anxiety and fear that Israelis knew so well in the dark days of the suicide bombings in the second intifada will invade American hearts and minds as well.
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