How to respond to a terrorist attack

April 26, 2013

BOSTON – There is no right way to react to a terrorist attack.

Oklahoma City rebuilt after Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 truck bomb attack on the federal government. Atlanta moved on following anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph’s 1996 bombing of the Olympics. New York displayed staggering resiliency after the September 11 attacks.

Boston, though, may have set a new standard.

Customers swarmed restaurants and businesses on Boylston Street, the site of the marathon bombings, after police reopened the area on Wednesday. There is overwhelming pride here in the public institutions – police, hospitals, government officials and news outlets (forgive my bias) – that responded so swiftly to the bombing. And there has been no major backlash against the city’s Muslim community since two Chechen-American brothers were identified as the prime suspects.

There have been missteps, of course. The FBI apparently failed to follow up aggressively enough on warnings from Russian officials about Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the older brother accused in the attack. Police fired on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, his younger brother, when he was unarmed, wounded and hiding in a boat. And a transit police officer, who was gravely wounded in a firefight with the brothers, may have been mistakenly shot by a fellow officer.

But this city’s brave, charitable and tolerant spirit so soon after the attack is an extraordinary example for all. There is mourning here, but little sense of fear. There is anger, but a realization that terrorism is a reality for communities worldwide. And there is a determination to not allow attacks on civilians to paralyze or divide this city.

“You can’t blame everybody for a few radical lunatics with hatred in their hearts,” said Neil Tanger, a 65-year-old longtime Boston Marathon volunteer, who choked back tears when visiting the bombing site Thursday night. “Most of the people who come here come for the opportunity.”

Tanger, filled with pride in the city and its people, said the examples of his immigrant grandfather and his father, a World War Two veteran, inspired his response.

“We have what we have here because of their commitment to the American dream,” he said. “We’re not going to give that up because of a few lunatics. We’re going to continue to be strong.”

On Thursday, this modest-sized but global city was back. On a glorious spring afternoon in the Boston Public Gardens, parents showed toddlers the duck statues made famous by the children’s classic Make Way for Ducklings. Nearby, blooming magnolia trees and expectant college students filled Commonwealth Avenue. And at night, the streets around Fenway Park grew electric as the Red Sox battled the Houston Astros.

Khalid Lottfi, a 47-year-old Moroccan-American taxi driver and 25-year Boston resident, is on a mission to explain his faith. Lottfi, who is Muslim, prayed in the days after the attacks that the perpetrators would not be Muslim.

After the surviving brother reportedly told investigators that they carried out the attacks to defend Islam, Lottfi started impromptu conversations about his faith with passengers in his taxi who seemed friendly.

“I tell them I’m Muslim and I can’t understand it either,” Lottfi said. “And they say, ‘Wow,’ and then they ask questions.”

Lottfi, who had lived in France but said he felt more tolerance for religious freedom in the United States, said the response from passengers has been overwhelmingly positive. He said he was doing “my little part” to ease fear in the city.

“They need to hear from a Muslim that I don’t condone this thing,” he said.

These are early days, of course. Flashes of anger do emerge. The day before images of the Tsarnaevs were released, an unidentified man assaulted a female Syrian doctor wearing a headscarf as she walked her 9-month-old daughter to day care in the Boston suburb of Malden.

“He said, ‘(Expletive) you. (Expletive) you, Muslims, You are terrorists, you are the ones who made the Boston explosion,’ ” Hebad Abolaban told the Boston Globe. “I was really, really completely shocked. I didn’t know what to do. Then I realized what happened. I was crying and crying.”

One woman visiting the bombing site called for a stricter immigration system and, like many Bostonians, expressed fury at reports that the older Tsarnaev brother received welfare. One young man who visited the site of the bombings on Thursday said he was a family friend of one victim. He called for tighter immigration laws and trying the surviving brother in a military court.

“If they were a scumbag in their own country, why should we let them in ours?” asked the young man, who did not want to be named. “Why is our government prosecuting him like he is one of us, when he obviously isn’t?”

Anger is understandable. Bostonians have suddenly joined residents of Kabul, Tel Aviv, Mumbai and Tokyo in living with terrorist attacks. In the past, no one here knew how they might react to a bomb set off in a crowd, a crazed gunman or a poison gas attack.

But this city is responding exactly as it should. The accused are being prosecuted as criminals – which they are. Public institutions are being praised – as they should be. And most people are resisting the attackers attempt to sow fear, bigotry and division.

While television images show the immediate chaos of attacks, they rarely present the long-term reaction. Bostonians are responding in the way average people have around the world when confronted with extremism: They help victims, feel contempt for the perpetrators and vow to not let them win.

“I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of the bombers,” Tanger said. “I’ll be back every year as long as I can walk.”

I expect massive crowds at next year’s Boston Marathon.


PHOTO (Top): Boston Marathon bombing survivor receives a hug next to the site of the first bomb explosion on Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts April 24, 2013. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

PHOTO (Insert A): Boston Mayor Thomas Menino (C), law enforcement officers and officials salute near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Boylston Street during a ceremony where the FBI symbolically released jurisdiction over to the city of Boston, Massachesetts, April 22, 2013. REUTERS/Chitose Suzuki/Boston Herald/Pool

PHOTO (Insert B): Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, suspect #2 in the Boston Marathon explosion is pictured in this undated FBI handout photo. Police on April 19, 2013 REUTERS/FBI/Handout


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Eric Rudolph blew up a babykilling abortion mill. He tried to stop innocent babies from being slaughtered by babykilling abortionists, for this action he should be commended. You who support the murder of unborn children are as guilty as the babykilling abortionists who murder them.

Posted by RevDonaldSpitz | Report as abusive

The world did not blame all Catholics for the IRA terrorist attacks, so it would be idiotic to blame all Muslims for terrorist attacks.
I do note when the terrorist is an atheist or claims no religion (Time McVeigh declared he was agnostic), that is never mentioned in the media like religions.
Terrorists are cowards who like to kill, and they hide behind religion or other issues to commit murder which they enjoy. It is a lot safer for a murderer to hide behind a religion than to come out and say they are simply a murderer.
So where are all the constant stories about the religions of the recent mass shootings in the US?
Islam is not the cause of current terrorism, the root cause is politics and self hatred.

Posted by americanguy | Report as abusive

Is it really possible to invade countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan and not experience some blow back? A trapped mouse will bite a cat even though it knows it’s suicide.

Posted by TheReckoning | Report as abusive

@The Reckoning,

When you clean out a nest of vipers, some times you get bit. When you don’t, the odds you and your family and friends will die of viper bites is greater. So you do what you have to do. No offense.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive

Yes, Surprise! Surprise! The American public is not near as inept and downright dumb as the media frequently attempts to portray.
Speaking of the media, how terribly inept and downright dumb was their coverage, all stumbling over themselves and competitors trying to scoop the next media spokesperson? We saw hours and days of fumbling over no real information, topped with conjectures and speculations and unverified reports and obtuse discussion of how bad was their journalistic integrity.

Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” attempted to make it funny, but it wasn’t, not because of lack of comedic talent, but because it was just pathetic.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

So, the eight-old-boy, the Chinese student and the young American woman were killed because Americans invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. A kind of “blow back” how said a commentator here. But, surprise, surprise the bombers were neither Afghans nor Iraqis, so this theory makes little sense. Here is most probable something else- defending Islam. Islam is the only link between the two countries and the bombers. It is not for the first time, not quite close to it- when Islam is defended by killing little boys and women. I hope to be the last time, but I don’t believe in miracles.

Posted by neluroman | Report as abusive

When people are losing their faith, comes act of God. The right response will be, at least keep some fidelity in the heart, as a final protection. Belief sometimes is the best way to keep self under aegis.

Posted by | Report as abusive

Crowds gathering causes troubles, a varity of natural troubles and they could be much worse than this one. I take this one as a nutural occurrence, too. This is originally designed by the natural law. So more people will definitely get hurt In the next gathering, but which one? Only God know.

Posted by | Report as abusive

So more disasters will definitely happen to those faith/common sense lost people.

Posted by | Report as abusive

In brief, this thing has nothing to do with religion. Any religion can make you a murder or a saint. It’s up to how you understand the religion is telling you. As I know, none of them truly understands what a religion says in the last 3,000 years. They are all misbelievers from the beginning. Sometimes, God is not very happy about this misunderstanding, but what He can do?

Posted by | Report as abusive

“Those being courageous and being afraid will survive; those being courageous, but not afraid will die.” This is the faith and this is the common sense, too, which is said by Lao Tzu.

Posted by | Report as abusive

People have become over proud complacent, their God has been transformed into all kinds of idol. Moses’ God has long gone; the true God has long gone; the Truth making mankind to survive in any condition has long gone. So people begin to suffer; this world begin to suffer.

Posted by | Report as abusive

“Why is our government prosecuting him like he is one of us, when he obviously isn’t?”

Both suspects were/are naturalized American citizens, if that’s what the guy meant by “us”

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

Since 9/11, Americans have given up a lot of freedom, and the attack in Boston shows that things still happen. And Boston showed people are not cowed.

Boston shows Americans do not have to be fearful. Perhaps now Americans can get some of their freedoms back also.

Now, will the politicians respond?

Terrorism deaths since 9/11, about 3(Boston). Deaths by guns since 9/11, about 1 million.

Posted by pavoter1946 | Report as abusive

Their ‘us’ are those teen-no-brainers who smoke pot in darkness.

Posted by | Report as abusive


Maybe, maybe not. I really don’t have any fear of Afghan and Iraqi immigrants terrorizing the US because of our attacks on their countries as much as I don’t fear Vietnamese or Laotian immigrants. It was not our wars that cause the bombers (even though I am anti war).

Islamic terrorism from the US invariably finds disenfranchised, unemployed men who are influenced by radical clerics funded by oil money. Every time there is a terrorist attack, I suspect its a Muslim but I don’t think its a wartime sufferer from Iraq, or an Iranian, or even Hammas or any real American organized enemy. I suspect its some disgruntled US/Saudi/European teenager influenced by Saudi money/Al Qaeda. We should never forget that the planes that hit 9-11 had almost all Saudi Citizens. Regarding the Boston bombers homeland – we know 2 things. One: there is no-anti American movement native to Chechniya or Dagestan and Two: A formerly not religious islamic society is being transformed by grants, schools and scholarships from our good Saudi friends. Its the same story over and over – its not our enemies but our allies we need to worry about.

Posted by John2244 | Report as abusive

Of 2 final final points you’ve made, first one is wrong – while vakhabizm is not “native” to Chechnya, it flourished and took control when nationalist insurgents there made “pact with the devil” in ’90s and became posterboys for good ole Osama, with all his rhetorics and hate toward christians and jews. After defeat number of surviving insurgents aided Al Qaeda’s wars in Afghanistan and other places. Which is of course ironic as before that west declared them “freedom fighters” and turned blind eye to their actions while screaming of “human rights abuse” when we finally start cleaning out that mess.

Posted by chyron | Report as abusive