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Millennium Post

Notes on a bombing scandal

As news reports and expert analyses on the Boston Marathon blasts kept pouring in since the heinous incident rocked the world on 15 April, a strangely shocking expression kept popping up every now and then. That the bombings in the Massachusetts’ capital had ‘shattered the post-9/11 calm’ in America; that this was the first ‘act of terror’ (read imported, Muslim-perpetrated assault on homeland security) since the two hijacked planes rammed into the Twin Towers of the erstwhile World Trade Center and razed it to the ground. In an attitude that is as perplexing as it’s dishonest, the number of gun massacres all around the US that brought the country to its knees and killed many more than last week’s marathon blasts, have been completely sidelined and almost deleted from the nation’s collective memory of terror, choosing instead to bet on the logical fallacy of it being equivalent to external threats.

Now that America has a newfound obsession in the two Chechen terrorists with cherubic Caucasian faces, the country as a whole is dipping its nose in the stinking broth of fresh speculations – whether this would be the beginning of a new Cold War with the Vladimir Putin-led Russian federation? Already, ruminations digging up the family history of the Brothers Tsarnaev, Tamerlane and Dzhokhar, are ‘going viral’, so to say, as the latest meme to hit the media circuits, social and broadcast, is the unholy fusion of the idea of ‘dark-skinned, Islamic terrorist’ with the angelic, pearly white faces of ex-Soviet origin. Media pundits like The New Yorkers’ David Remnick are reminiscing how in the middle of Second World War, Joseph Stalin, the Russian tyrant of Georgian origin, ‘seized by one of his historic fits of paranoia and cruelty, declared the Chechen people disloyal to the USSR and banished them from their homeland in the northern Caucasus to Central Asia and Siberian wastes.’ He, along with others, cannot but reimagine the horrors of that senseless deportation more than half a century back, as thousands died from cold and starvation, with the surviving members of the Tsarnaev family eventually settling in Kyrgystan. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Chechen nationalists fought two bitter but losing wars with the Russians, under Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin, though rebellion still continues sporadically in Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia.

However, this rebellion has now transmogrified into a version of ‘global jihad’, as the region is predominantly Muslim in demographics. Here comes the paradox, though in American imagination, it is not that paradoxical either. The Tsarnaev brothers belonged to a family of Chechen immigrants from Dagestan, who had come to live in Boston nearly a decade back. As a 16-year-old adolescent and a nine-year-old boy, the brothers Tamerlane and Dzhokhar, like good Samaritans, were supposed to be sufficiently swayed by the American dream. In fact, the younger Dzhokhar, the baby-faced ‘Suspect Two’, who has been caught alive with hand grenades and explosives in his possession, was a good looking college-going man, who came across as ‘smart’ and jovial. Unlike his elder brother Tamerlane (the name itself ironically symbolic of tragic overreach – from the historic Tamburlaine), a dedicated boxer and training in Wai Kru Mixed Martial Arts, who had ‘not a single American friend’, Dzhokhar appeared friendly and nice, like any other easygoing young man in his late teens. The extent of their (incomplete) naturalisation was indicated by the fact that the brothers liked the film Borat, acted and directed by Sasha Baron Cohen, that spoofed an Eastern European bungler’s trip to America.  

America naked racism was evident when before the police had zeroed in on the Tsarnaev brothers, the blame was squarely put on the missing Indian-American student of Brown University, Sunil Tripathi, who has an uncanny resemblance with the Boston bombers. Furthermore, a student from Saudi Arabia, who had rushed to tend to the injured, was also rounded up as a suspect, before humiliating interrogation revealed his innocence. But what about the much-tainted, price-tagged American innocence?

Boston bombings have thrown up as many incongruences as they have reiterated some known stereotypes. Firstly, the line between foreign and domestic terrorism has been blurred, much like 7/7 London underground bombings, that claimed over 50 lives. This is the disenchantment with the American dream itself, and herein lies the paradox at the heart of American ideals of patriotism (they struck on Patriots’ Day) and the draconian Patriot Act. In an intensely globalised world, such distinctions any fail to exist, but attack on American soil somehow assume far greater significance, symbolic and urgent, than the ritual, everyday assaults on others parts of the world.

What about Iraq, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine, Central African Republic and other places, where terrorist attacks happen at a rate almost thousand times higher than the once-in-a-decade breaking of the US bastille?  Why the breach of the security fortress of America matter more than say terrorist attacks in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune and other wounded Indian cities? Rafia Zakaria, a Pakistani journalist, lists the number of bombings in Pakistan in 2012 alone – a staggering 652 occasions – and that is nothing compared to the severe air raids taking down Damascus, the Syrian capital, or what happened in Beirut, the Lebanese prime city. Why this ‘normalisation’ of conflicts in other parts of the world, as opposed to the normalisation of the bucolic American pastoral, wherein violence, though omnipresent through gun massacres and Hollywood-propagated gore-fests, is seen strictly as an external pollutant?

As Zakaria asks, why American tragedies somehow seem to occur in a more poignant version of reality, as within minutes American victims are lifted from the nameless and faceless to the face of collective trauma and memory of grief? Why this ceremonious act of providing personalised epitaphs for every American grave, but no tombstone, not even the ceremony of burial of the millions of other deads, victims of American atrocities on external soil? Obviously, keeping a balance-sheet of the dead is such an odious task that it is conveniently sacrificed at the altar of American exceptionalism, in life as well as in death.

The author is assistant editor at Millennium Post
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