Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What's worth saying about the Boston Marathon bombing at this point?

Nobody but the bomber(s) knows who did this, at this point. Still, we know some things.

First, the bomber intended to kill and maim as many people as possible--and a pretty random assortment of people at that, since this wasn't a political event. That doesn't guarantee that this was a terrorist event, but it makes it more likely.

It doesn't guarantee that this was a terrorist event because it's at least possible that the bomber was simply a lone psychopath who wanted revenge for a lifetime of rejection and frustration. As the Newtown shooter showed, just because someone is a psychopath doesn't mean they're stupid, or that they can't plan out something carefully over a period of time.

It also shows that the bomber isn't suicidal--or he'd have shown up with an AR-15 and started shooting until he got shot or got cornered and shot himself. This bomber doesn't want to get caught. Which almost certainly means he plans to do this again.

But the absence of some kind of communiqué implies a diffuse motive. Acts of terrorism designed to change government policy are rarely self-evident as to the policy changes the bomber wants, unless the intended target makes it obvious.

Thus a bombing of Exxon's headquarters or an abortion clinic or a federal IRS office are all pretty self-explanatory. But unless the bomber has it in for marathon runners and their supporters, the Boston event isn't one of these. In Iraq, bombings have often been designed to undermine people's belief that the government can protect them. But it would take a lot more bombings by this bomber to even start to convey that idea.

The bomber is probably a lone individual. The bombs used were neither highly sophisticated nor primitive--somewhere in between. The bomb recipe used it easily available online, and a moderately technically competent individual could build one. And if the bombs could have been placed higher up (they were placed on the ground), more people would have been killed rather than just having their legs maimed or blown off. If a group had been planning this and carrying it out, I suspect they'd have been able to kill a lot more people just from better logistics and placement. Likewise the second bomb went off too soon compared to the first one--a bit later and it would have hit more emergency personnel, impeding efforts to save the victims of the first blast more than having it go off just a few seconds after the first one.

These indicate a lack of professionalism in this attack, perverse as it is to use such a word in connection to with terrorist attacks.

If this was political terrorism--or psycho terrorism with a political angle--it seems more likely to be Islamofascist rather than American Left wing or Right wing. American Leftists are far more likely to attack banks, corporations, and other obvious targets of left wing ire. Right wingers are far more likely to attack social targets like abortion clinics or government targets if they're right wing militia nuts--the kind who regard the federal government as a foreign occupying force.

I don't see how a marathon finish line scene would be a logical target for American leftists or rightists. However, it would make a fine target for jihadis who have declared war against all Americans, and who don't regard innocent civilians as acceptable collateral damage, but instead regard them as the actual targets.

However, after the Oklahoma bombing my first thought was jihadis, and of course that was wrong. After the Atlanta bombing law enforcement authorities ruined the life of a security guard who was actually a hero in the event, in their efforts to offer up a perp to the public.

It took a long time to find the actual perpetrator, who very much didn't want to be found. Ditto the Unabomber. So nobody should be surprised if the current case takes a long time--even in this age of ubiquitous cellphones with cameras and security cameras.

And when we do, don't be surprised if it turns out the bomber is technically sane. Studies of suicide bombers captured before they could complete their missions revealed that they were quite sane. Just in the grip of an ideology.

After all, it's sane for an individual to sacrifice himself for his family, his tribe, his nation. Every year our military hands out posthumous medals for such people. If you watched the "martyr videos" of the London subway bombers, it was obvious that they were sane. Just ideologues who had come to believe that only by such extreme measures could they protect their people, as they saw the situation.

So when people call this bombing "senseless" I think that's off the mark. Nobody just sits in a room and says to himself "Let's see. I could watch a Gilligan's Island rerun or build a bomb. I'll flip a coin." And later, nobody says to themselves "Shall I set off this bomb in a cornfield or in a bank or at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. I'll flip a couple of coins."

Being able to see your enemy's viewpoint enables you to oppose him far more effectively. Refusing to think that your enemy has a viewpoint, or that the viewpoint is "pure evil"--a common right wing fallacy--just makes the job harder.

Nor does trying to understand a mortal enemy mean going soft on the perp when you catch him. I support the death penalty for such people--Colonel Hassan for example--as long as there isn't the slightest doubt as to his guilt, as is the case with Hassan.

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