Terrorism

marsmet547 / Flickr

A photo taken during the bombing at the Boston Marathon. marsmet547 / Flickr

The recent explosions at the Boston Marathon and subsequent media coverage exposed yet again a dangerous trend in U.S. culture: rushing to judgment in labeling and prosecuting crimes, and throwing away long-held U.S. American ideals and legal principles of due process.

Terrorism — a form of communication and a military tactic, not an ideology — is the systematic use of violence against civilians to intimidate them for a political purpose. Too many media outlets, elected officials, and community leaders have prematurely labeled the Boston Marathon bombing an act of terrorism. Some people were upset President Obama did not label the acts "terrorism" in his address just hours after the explosions.

 Photo by Holly Thornton

Mike Norrell and Woody Thornton ski in a pyramid with Gloria Walker at the top. Photo by Holly Thornton

In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings that left three dead and more than 260 injured, perhaps none face more significant adjustments or a longer road ahead than the 14 amputees who lost a limb.

For these victims, the path forward involves relearning almost everything, from getting out of bed to getting in a car. Whether they go on to lead satisfying lives depends largely on how they handle the spiritual challenges at hand, according to amputees and researchers.

Losing a limb is like losing a family member: It involves grief and mourning, according to Jack Richmond, a Chattanooga, Tenn., amputee who leads education efforts for the Manassas, Va.-based Amputee Coalition. When one’s body and abilities are radically changed, questions of meaning are suddenly urgent: Why did this happen? Why am I here?

“You’re wondering: Why did I live?” said Rose Bissonnette, an amputee and founder of the Lancaster, Mass.-based New England Amputee Association, a support organization for amputees.

Adam Ericksen 4-24-2013
Boston bombing aftermath, Vjeran Pavic / Flickr.com

Boston bombing aftermath, Vjeran Pavic / Flickr.com

Editor’s Note: Jim Wallis’ latest book On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned About Serving the Common Good is sparking a national conversation on what it means to come together on issues that traditionally divide the nation. Bloggers Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins are having that conversation here, on the God’s Politics blog. Follow along, and join the discussion in the comments section.

What if we surprised our enemies?

I mean, really surprised them. What if we surprised them with something totally unexpected? When our personal, political, and national enemies strike us, they expect us to strike back. That’s been the human script since the foundations of human culture. We mimic violence blow for blow. Only each side wants to be the side who delivers the final blow.

What if we surprised our enemies and changed the script?

FBI Photo

A photo released by the FBI shows Boston Marathon bombing suspects Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, left, and his brother Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — After two troubling outbursts at a local mosque, leaders there told Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev he would no longer be welcome if he continued disrupting services.

Leaders at the Islamic Society of Boston‘s mosque in Cambridge say Tsarnaev, 26, who died early Friday after a shootout with police, “disagreed with the moderate American-Islamic theology” of the mosque, but they never had “any hint” the brothers might be violent.

On one occasion in November at weekly prayer, Tsarnaev challenged an imam who said in his sermon that it was appropriate to celebrate U.S. national holidays, such as July 4th and Thanksgiving, the statement said.

Tsarnaev argued that such celebrations are “not allowed in the faith.” When the preacher met with Tsarnaev after the prayer, Tsarnaev “repeatedly argued his viewpoint, and then left,” the statement said.

Immigration Reform Rally on April 10. Photo by Catherine Woodiwiss / Sojourners

Immigration Reform Rally on April 10. Photo by Catherine Woodiwiss / Sojourners

Leading U.S. Catholic bishops on Monday denounced efforts to use the Boston Marathon bombings to derail the push for immigration reform, saying it is wrong to brand all immigrants as dangerous and that a revamped system would in fact make Americans safer.

“Opponents of immigration … will seize on anything, and when you’ve got something as vivid and as recent as the tragedy in Boston it puts another arrow in their quiver,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told reporters.

“To label a whole group of people – namely, the vast population of hard-working, reliable, virtuous immigrants – to label them, to demean them because of the vicious, tragic actions of two people is just ridiculous,” he said. “Illogical. Unfair. Unjust.”

David O'Hara 4-22-2013
Broadcast studio, udra11 / Shutterstock.com

Broadcast studio, udra11 / Shutterstock.com

I’m not offering this as consolation to those who have lost someone they love, but as a warning. What’s true of those we love may be just as true of those whom we hate and fear: we become like what we worship, and we worship what we cherish in our hearts. 

When people commit monstrous deeds, it is hard not to turn and stare in horror. Think about how hard it is to pull your eyes from the television even when none of the news is new, just the same breathless commentary about what we don’t yet know, what we still don’t understand about the latest act of terror. 

When the monsters and their violence become our focus, they grow and become our gods. We’ve become very good at hurting one another, so of course we need to be vigilant. But it’s possible to take our fear too far, to let our natural reaction to sudden violence become a permanent policy of suspicion and terror. Then we are in danger of worshiping our would-be enemies. We don’t worship them joyfully, but we worship them anyway, the way we might worship any vengeful, unstable, wrathful gods: looking over our shoulders and fearing their power. If the best we can come up with is invective against immigrants, suspicion of people unlike us, and perpetually heightened security measures, it starts to look like our hearts are full of fear.

Morf Morford 4-22-2013
Cain and Abel depiction, claudio zaccherini / Shutterstock.com

Cain and Abel depiction, claudio zaccherini / Shutterstock.com

It’s one of the deepest and most enduring themes of the Bible; from Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob, and many more — the two sons, with jealousy, strife, and even murder between them, and almost always, the younger brother takes the glory – or the blame – for the acts of the older brother.

We see it again in the Boston Marathon bombings – the elder brother portrayed as cynical and brutish, while the younger brother, taking the blame, is shown as charming and innocent.

Kevin Eckstrom 4-19-2013

American Muslim leaders said they stand against terrorism committed in the name of Islam, trying to distance themselves from the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings who were identified as Muslims with ties to Chechnya.

“We will never allow ourselves to be hijacked by this attempt, and we will not allow the perception to be that there is any religion in the world that condones the taking of innocent life,” said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

As the manhunt intensified in and around Boston, Muslim leaders convened a press conference Friday to denounce the attacks and to urge the media not to link their faith with violent extremism.

President Barack Obama praised Bostonians for their actions “in the face of evil” during an interfaith memorial service on Thursday for victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

“You’ve shown us, Boston, that in the face of evil, Americans will lift up what’s good. In the face of cruelty, we will choose compassion,” Obama said.

The 90-minute service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross featured local political figures and religious leaders from Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions. Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley shared a greeting with the congregants from Pope Francis.

“The Holy Father invokes God’s peace upon our dead, consolation upon the suffering and God’s strength upon all those engaged in the continuing work of relief and response,” O’Malley said.

Obama opened his remarks with Scripture, and quoted it throughout his speech.

Campbell Lovett 4-18-2013
Silhouette of runner, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com

Silhouette of runner, Warren Goldswain / Shutterstock.com

The Boston Marathon bombing is so shocking because it was obviously done by someone(s) who wanted to prove something not to themselves, but to others. Could they display to the world his repressed rage enough? Could they divert attention to their cause enough? Could they maim and kill the innocent for some misguided agenda enough? That is what makes this act of terrorism so terrifying: a sick person or people trying to prove something to others by targeting those who are simply proving something to themselves, or trying to do something for others. It is jarring.

Ninety minutes before the bombs detonated, I was concluding a presentation on Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. That recent immersion into Luke’s narrative shaped my video viewing of the bombing’s aftermath. The one who “fell into the hands of robbers” was everywhere. The assaulted and bloodied were scattered by the side of the road, in this case, Boylston Street. Instead of people passing by on the other side, however, it was quite the opposite. Spectators and emergency medical personnel waded into the grisly scene and treated the wounded with exquisite care.

Adam Ericksen 4-17-2013
Boston Marathon bombing, hahatango / Flickr.com

Boston Marathon bombing, hahatango / Flickr.com

What do you say in the face of evil?

The stories from Monday’s attacks at the Boston Marathon are heartbreaking, gut-wrenching. One in particular stands out to me. A woman was waiting for her husband to cross the finish line when the bombs exploded. For three hours she searched frantically for him, not knowing if he was alive or dead, not knowing if he was frantic and looking for her. Her voice cracked and tears flowed with the raw memory as she told of the moment when she and her husband embraced.

Moments like this, even when they end happily, remind us of our vulnerability. As hard as we try to protect ourselves with heightened security measures, we know that complete invulnerability is impossible. I am vulnerable. My wife is vulnerable. My children are vulnerable. We cannot escape it.

In the face of gun violence and bombings, gender violence and rape, we would be irresponsible not to ask big questions about evil and human vulnerability.

A few hours after the bombing, President Barack Obama addressed our natural desire to carry out justice after these events.

[M]ake no mistake; we will get to the bottom of this. We will find out who did this, we will find out why they did this. Any responsible individuals, any responsible groups, will feel the full weight of justice.

Like the president, I want to take action against evil and I want to know I am secure. I hate admitting that I’m vulnerable. But the president’s words didn’t reassure me. They made me feel more vulnerable because the phrase “full weight of justice” is always a veiled call to violence. 

A Police officer stands by as runners pass during the 2013 Boston Marathon. Phot

A Police officer stands by as runners pass during the 2013 Boston Marathon. Photo courtesy Sonia Su via Flickr

No sooner had the reality of the Boston Marathon bombing sunk in on Monday afternoon than Muslim activists in the U.S. began sending out a slew of news releases, tweets, and Facebook messages urging prayers and aid for the victims — and condemning whoever was behind the horrific attack.

“American Muslims, like Americans of all backgrounds, condemn in the strongest possible terms today’s cowardly bomb attack on participants and spectators of the Boston Marathon,” Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in a statement on Monday.

It’s a familiar race against time for Muslim groups. Almost as soon as the smoke cleared around Copley Square, they knew from long experience that some would immediately point the finger of blame in their direction.

Many widely believed Muslims were behind the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, until American militiaman Timothy McVeigh was convicted of the crime.

“We also call for the swift apprehension and punishment of the perpetrators,” Awad added, echoing a statement from the Muslim Public Affairs Council that called on “all of us as Americans to work together to bring those responsible to justice.”

Brian E. Konkol 4-17-2013
Guardian angel, umbertoleporini / Shutterstock.com

Guardian angel, umbertoleporini / Shutterstock.com

I am tormented by what took place at the Boston Marathon. An iconic event that is supposed to be a celebration of achievement and companionship will be scarred with memories of injury and death for years to come. However, the source of my distress is not only the horrific sights and sounds of violence and terror, but in such dreadful disasters I also struggle with our common conceptions of a loving God. As many wonder where God was in the midst of such tragedy, and while others question why God did not (or could not) prevent such terror from taking place, I am personally tormented with my belief of where God's love will be placed in its aftermath.

On the one hand, we are told “blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5: 4), and in receiving the Gospel in such ways, we take comfort in the belief that God is with those who suffer and directly at the side of those who struggle. This conception of a loving God offers relief for the victims in Boston and all those on the receiving end of transgression. However, while we proclaim a God in solidarity alongside those in pain, we are also often told that God is present with those who cause the pain, for the love and forgiveness found in Jesus is inclusive, it has no boundaries, and nothing is able to “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). So just as Jesus was sent to soothe those who suffer, he also absolves those responsible for the suffering. As a result, we are left with a God who seems to love both saints and sinners, which means we are both comforted and confronted in the aftermath of tragedy in Boston. 

Jon Huckins 4-16-2013

It is in times and tragedies like those that happened in Boston that our call to pray for our enemies is most difficult. May we be faithful to pray for them despite our circumstances.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, on all of us, sinners.

Father, we don't know who was behind the tragedies in Boston, but we do know that they were human. And we know we are to pray for our enemies.

In Jesus we see humanities true identity as ones who are to be agents of life, not death. Jesus, as first of New Creation, invites all humanity to reflect and participate in New Creation. 

Kenneth Tanner 3-08-2013
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is seen on a TV monitor participating in a filibuster. Alex Wong/Getty Images

While I stand with Sen. Rand Paul on the question of the use of militarized spy drones in American airspace and (potentially) on Americans, I am deeply troubled by our use of these weapons in other lands, too, where they are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of children and other innocents.

There's something dishonorable about killing without the risk associated with the act, no matter how heinous the target or valuable and beautiful the persons you put at risk in order to personally kill.

Kenneth Tanner 3-05-2013
Airport security, Tifonimages / Shutterstock.com

Airport security, Tifonimages / Shutterstock.com

As I stood in line at Orlando International Airport, a little girl did not want to go through airport security. She was desperately clinging to her grandmother.

I had already been pondering, as I *always* do, the enormous investment the nation has made in these checkpoints, going on 12 years now, in response to the actions of 19 men. 19 persons. These lines are here forever now, just one more cost of the fall, one more insult to our usual illusion of normalcy.

I'm not inconvenienced by the searches or the scanners, or worried about my personal liberties, though half stripping in public is embarrassing (we men have to take our belts off). At least the posture in those full-body cylinders reminds me that, at a very real level, this ought to be my more constant pose: found wanting, presumed guilty, and in need of throwing up my hands in surrender.

Still, I marvel at the sheer amount of money we must spend for all of this equipment and personnel, hoping this all somehow makes us safe. I'm skeptical.

Helen Schietinger 2-26-2013
Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images

'Camp Justice' sign near the high-tech, high-security courtroom at Guantanamo Bay. Mandel Ngan-Pool/Getty Images

The myth that President Barack Obama closed Guantanamo his first year in office persists, but four years later the detainees are still there. Can justice be served?

I wanted to find out for myself. Over the past month, the Obama administration has started prosecuting some of the Guantanamo prisoners. They are tried in a specially constructed courtroom at Guantanamo, under military commissions rules touted to restore the rights absent under former President George W. Bush’s tribunals.

The trial logistics are a challenge: the tribunals convene periodically on the Guantanamo naval base under tightly controlled conditions. Additionally, the hearings are simulcast to military bases in the U.S. where members of the public and press are allowed to view.

I went to the Ft. Meade army base in Maryland to view the proceedings via closed circuit TV. While I was there, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, alleged ringleader in the September 11, 2001, attacks, and four other men charged with various crimes related to 9/11, were on trial. The government is asking for the death penalty for all five men.

Duane Shank 11-05-2012

Most of us have read President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 farewell speech warning of the growing military-industrial complex in the U.S.  Fifty years later, many of his fears have become realities. Aaron B. O’Connell, an assistant professor of history at the United States Naval Academy and a Marine reserve officer, points out in a New York Times column the part of Ike’s speech we don’t often remember: Eisenhower’s least heeded warning — concerning the spiritual effects of permanent preparations for war — is more important now than ever.”

He explains:

“Uncritical support of all things martial is quickly becoming the new normal for our youth. Hardly any of my students at the Naval Academy remember a time when their nation wasn’t at war. Almost all think it ordinary to hear of drone strikes in Yemen or Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. The recent revelation of counterterrorism bases in Africa elicits no surprise in them, nor do the military ceremonies that are now regular features at sporting events. That which is left unexamined eventually becomes invisible, and as a result, few Americans today are giving sufficient consideration to the full range of violent activities the government undertakes in their names.”

Jeanie Groh 10-26-2012

WASHINGTON -- A federal grand jury added terrorism to the list of charges faced by the Virginia man who was indicted in the shooting of a security guard at the conservative Family Research Council's Washington offices.

Floyd Lee Corkins II, 28, of Herndon, Va., was arrested Aug. 15, shortly after police say he opened fire in the lobby of the FRC's downtown headquarters, injuring an unarmed security guard.

Before he opened fire, Corkins reportedly was carrying a bag of Chick-fil-A sandwiches, and told security guard Leo Johnson he disagreed with the FRC's politics; the FRC had supported the fast-food chain's donations to groups that oppose same-sex marriage.

Corkins pleaded not guilty to initial charges of interstate transportation of a firearm and ammunition, as well as the District of Columbia offenses of assault with intent to kill while armed and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.

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