Friday, May 10, 2013

Let's not prove the terrorists right

At the end of the day, this is what I think. I think that terrorists are, by nature, not dumb people. I also think that terrorists, by nature, are inherently violent, and in a grandiose way. They are no different than the Adam Lanzas of the world. They feel as if the only way they can make a statement that will make everyone stand up and take notice is to do something spectacularly vile.

Otherwise, to them, they're faceless entities who have no relevance. You can call them sick. You can call them evil and twisted. But don't call them dumb.

They have studied us way more than we've studied them. They have tapped into the American psyche (some might even call it the American hubris). And they understand that whatever violence they do has far-reaching ramifications. It isn't just for the purpose of killing and maiming that the Tsaranev Brothers exploded two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. It was also -- in a sense -- done to dispel our belief that we are above all the irrational hatred and prejudice that seems to thrive in their worlds, and spur them to such violence.

Please let's not let this horrific incident do this.

I believe we are above it. But I also believe that demonstrating our generic humanity and fairness is most important in stressful, tragic circumstances. That is when our nation's founding ideals come under most assault.

And those who would commit terrorism on American soil know this.

We certainly passed the test on April 15. Hundreds of first responders took their lives in their hands,  rushing to the scene of the bombings (just as they did in New York in 2001). Others rushed to give blood. The outpouring of genuine human emotion, and the thousands of different ways individuals responded to the crisis, helped -- I think -- helped heal us in the immediate aftermath.

Regardless of who blames whom in the fight over whether the FBI communicated with the Boston Police, no one can argue that the local authorities didn't work with the feds to apprehend the Tsaranevs as quickly as possible (the question of a virtual lockdown of the Boston area has validity but can be left for another time). The region-wide, visibly jubilant catharsis resulting from Dzhokhar's capture was spontaneous and genuine, even if it was a bit tacky for my taste personally. We caught the bad guy before he could commit another mass tragedy.

But I submit the immediate aftermath of this tragedy was the easy part ... not, perhaps, for the victims and their families, but for the rest of us who didn't have direct involvement. It's easy to stay united, and to stay strong, when the Bruins and Red Sox are holding virtual rallies, David Ortiz is spewing well-intentioned invective in front of 38,000 people at Fenway Park, and Neil Diamond flies all the way in from the West Coast to sing what has become the area's signature rallying song: Sweet Caroline.

It's a bit more difficult when confronted with the larger, tougher, issues that come later ... where there is no black and white, but many shades of gray. What do we do with Tamerlan's body? Do we read Dzhokhar (who IS a U.S. citizen) his rights? Do we try him via military tribunal or seek redress through the U.S. justice system (where constitutional rights are in place so innocent people aren't unjustifiably imprisoned and not, as some people suggest, the other way around)?

This is where it gets difficult. This is where procedure -- however unpopular -- has to supplant emotion. Tsaranev will get his trial, and to put on his defense, within a reasonable amount of time. But not tomorrow and not next week. And that's so the immediate, visceral emotion of what has happened can die down and be replaced by reason and the rules of evidence and procedure.

It must be this way. Otherwise, we become a nation of vigilantism and lynch mobs. We protect our suspects (such as Dzhokhar and -- I suppose -- Whitey Bulger) so that some other Jack Ruby isn't given an opportunity to murder them before we can get to the bottom of what they did and, perhaps why.

I mean, I have no idea what went on in Tamerlan Tsaranev's head, but I'd kind of like to know what possessed Dzhohkar, a seemingly well-assimilated and well-adjusted teenager, to convert to a side so dark he'd put a bomb behind a little boy. And I don't want some vigilante to assassinate him before we can attempt to find out ... and before whatever sick rationale he spews is made public at a trial.

Smart people who were victimized by much unfairness on the part of the British during colonial times devised these rights ... and from these rights, and the observance of them, came rules of evidence and procedure. These people obviously had a strong reason for creating this justice system. Perhaps they, or people they were associated with, fell victim to kangaroo courts that rushed to judgment without the slightest regard for the truth.

Every time a U.S. citizen is imprisoned in Iran or North Korea on some phony pretext, our visceral reaction is to blame the country's skewed political system, and its kangaroo courts, for the the problem. Do we really want that here?

I don't think we do. So we have to trust our judicial system that it will properly, legally, and competently present its case against Dzhohkar and earn the conviction he truly deserves.

It's the same thing with Tamerlan's remains. One of the things we do in this country is bury our dead (and if he lives here, he's our dead). We've interred many heinous individuals (some of them with funerals so ostentatious that they'd be funny if they weren't so blatantly hypocritical). We've sat there and taken it all in, some of us without doubt shaking their heads in amazement every step along the way.

Why? Because we've accepted that it's what we do in this country. So what if Gennaro Angiulo was responsible for maybe 20 times the death and mutilation ascribed to the Tsaranevs? His funeral stopped traffic ... and the police were the ones directing it. It was a spectacle. And it gave comfort to his family, even if it struck us as absurd.

That's why it was so disturbing to see the hate and fear machine stoked as much as it was this past week over where and how Tamerlan should be buried. It was a sorry spectacle. And as my friend Kris Mason likes to say, it's the product of a certain "rage addiction" that seems to have taken hold in this country. Someone else calls it the "Springer Virus." Either term fits.

And again, don't think the people who declare us their enemy haven't studied us sufficiently enough to know how this all works. There are those among us who live to incite mobs ... whether those mobs are spurred to violence or simply driven to the airwaves and newspaper blogs to just trash anything they don't like ... however irrational those dislikes might be.

Here's a news flash. We're not going to like everything. And no one ever said we would, or even should, like everything. I don't like broccoli and brussel sprouts. Should I ban them from being sold at my grocery store?

You don't have to like the fact that Tamerlan Tsaranev was buried in a Muslim cemetery in Virginia (if that's the case), but if you call yourself any kind of an American (or Christian) at all, you have to accept that's what we do. I'm a Catholic. I learned the Corporal Works of Mercy when I was in grammar school (the nuns even taught us a song about it). One of them is "bury the dead." It doesn't specify which dead.

What we do when we succumb to this "rage addiction hysteria" is feed the rage machine. God knows I'm no fan of George W. Bush, but he was right about one thing ... that those who attacked us on 9/11, and again on April 15, are dubious about our freedoms. Their belief systems find those freedoms subversive.

Not only that, the point I think they're trying to prove by doing this is that when push comes to shove, all these freedoms, and all this talk about diversity and tolerance, is simply a myth ... our own propaganda to show how high-minded we all are. When the issue is forced upon us, we can be just as paranoid, just as petty, irrational, small-minded, and suspicious as they are.

That is what they want to prove.

They want to show that we can form mobs just like they do. We can stand outside a funeral home with scathing signs and scathing language and rage irrationally against a man whose only crime was to follow one of those Corporal Works of Mercy that a religion perhaps many of us clam to devoutly follow asks us to practice.

It would have been nice had Tamerlan been buried in an unmarked grave, in an unknown location, and in the type of abject anonymity he richly deserved. Dickens had it right with Scrooge's grave. I envisioned Tamerlan's much the same.

But that's not going to happen now. It's either going to become a shrine to people of like mind who have found the irrational justification to twist a word (jihad) that simply means to teach into a war cry along the lines of "come home with your shield or on it"; or a target for the rage-addicted who seem to think that the louder and longer they scream, the more patriotic they are.

There isn't much we can do about the former. But please, please, please do not give the Tsaranevs of the world the satisfaction of allowing the latter to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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