Boston jihadi bombing follow-up

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Noteworthy news, comment, and reflection:

MIT's student newspaper The Tech reports on the memorial service for campus police officer Sean Collier.

MIT Police Chief John Difava recounted the events of last Thursday night. He was pulling out of Stata around 9:30 p.m. and saw a cruiser idling, which turned out to be Collier. "I asked him what was going on, and he gave me that famous grin," said DiFava, "and said 'just making sure everybody's behaving, sir.'" An hour later, Collier would be shot.

DiFava also spoke about all of Collier's qualities, stories of which have been pouring from the community this week: He was a gentle and caring man, and police work was his calling. Sean wanted to be a police officer from the age of 7, said DiFava, and paid his way through the police academy with no promise of employment, waiting for a department with an opening. "That lucky department would be us."

The LA Times spoke to neighbors and acquaintances of the (alleged) bombers, including members of a mosque where they worshipped, the Islamic Center of Boston mosque in Cambridge. Some told of a recent, angry outburst by the older brother.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was thrown out of the mosque -- the Islamic Society of Boston, in Cambridge -- about three months ago, after he stood up and shouted at the imam during a Friday prayer service, they said. The imam had held up slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of a man to emulate, recalled one worshiper who would give his name only as Muhammad.

Enraged, Tamerlan stood up and began shouting, Muhammad said.

"You cannot mention this guy because he's not a Muslim!" Muhammad recalled Tamerlan shouting, shocking others in attendance.

He returned to the service later without further incident, and other mosque members say he wasn't thrown out so much as taken aside and calmed down.

(Interesting contrast between this situation and a Tulsa man who said he was intimidated by leaders at his mosque and effectively kicked out because of an op-ed he wrote condemning violence in the name of Islam.)

A week ago, Judicial Watch found that bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev's 2009 arrest (not conviction, but the arrest by itself) for domestic violence was sufficient justification to have had him deported. That article also links to other documents about al-Qaeda's involvement in Chechnya.

Ace of Spades HQ has a lengthy analysis of the decision to read a Miranda warning to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who immediately stopped talking. Ace notes that if may be worth sacrificing the ability to use the suspect's statements against him in a court of law in order for a greater purpose -- finding out who else still out there may have been involved.

Ace also links to this: In Paris this week, a rabbi and his son were slashed and wounded by a man wielding a box cutter and shouting "Allah-u-akbar!"

In the Telegraph, columnist Brendan O'Neill wonders why American liberals seem to be more worried about the reaction of some Americans to a radical Muslim motivation behind the bombing than about the bombing itself.

Todd Stewman, a church planting pastor in Austin, Texas, was at the finish line just minutes before the attack and not long after his wife had finished running the marathon. He reflects on the providence that had him away from the finish line and around the block when the bombs went off, while others were killed and maimed. He asks, "Where was God on Boylston Street?" Where is God in suffering?

Jesus, more than anyone in human history, suffered as an innocent.... God's hand was on him through it all. Jesus was perfectly at the center of the Father's will, even when he was suffering. What does this mean for us? It means that suffering does not indicate the absence of God. It means that God is with us in the midst of suffering. Jesus is the fulfillment of Psalm 23:4, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me." The only reason we can know for sure that God is with us through evil and suffering is that the Son of God waded into a broken world, experienced suffering himself, and overcame it. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ does not eliminate all suffering now, but it does guarantee that suffering will one day be eliminated ultimately when he comes again. The death and resurrection of Jesus tells us that God has not ignored evil and suffering, but that he has done something decisively about it. God has dealt a final blow to death by raising Jesus from the dead, and one day there will be no more death and suffering.

So, if I had died or been badly injured on Monday, God would no less have been with me. My safety and security are gifts from God, for which I am most certainly thankful. But my safety and security are not the litmus test of his presence and goodness. His presence and goodness are evidenced by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who "took up our pain and bore our suffering (Isaiah 53:4)."

Julie R. Neidlinger ponders how we respond emotionally to a far-away tragedy -- our rebellion against the thought that we aren't really in control, our desire to express care and concern to the victims without the means to do so in substantial ways, and how blind we can be to those who are within the reach of our help. There's so much insight here, it's tempting to quote the whole thing:

We post sad sentiments and outrage and images on social media. We like and share them and hope it changes the future so that it will never happen again. What else can we do to banish this bad thing? And then politicians mistakenly think their reason for existence is to legislate something so the human condition of pain and suffering doesn't rear its ugly head again.

"If something terrible ever happens to me, " I told my friend, "I don't want to be the excuse for bad legislation. I don't want to be memorialized as a victim. I didn't live 40 years on this planet to be remembered for a few final ugly moments and a fight in some elected political body in an attempt to make human nature illegal."

Tragedy and evil are not completely within our control. We make lots of noise and pretend it isn't so....

We're an ephemerally-connected world. We have a strange problem of being instantly connected to the news of what's happening but unable to do anything substantially. We can give money. Post to Facebook. Tweet. Use emoticons. Click "like".

But grief is best handled in person by people close to those affected, in actual physical proximity, and I can't do that on Facebook....

When something bad happens in the world, I realize I don't want to be able to weep huge tears for hurting people across the country and not feel anything for the actual people God put in my life.

The best thing I can do now is show my family and friends love.

I can let the people in my life know my thoughts are with them by sending a card or a bouquet of surprise flowers or talking on the phone even when I have work that I need to do. Little things are big things; they accumulate. Thinking kind thoughts are of little use if the person doesn't know you, and doesn't know you're thinking about them.

The best thing we can do when tragedy strikes elsewhere is make sure love happens here. Make the small world you're a part of better as a fight against the spreading darkness.

Back on Monday, April 22, 2013, Rob Port reported that U. S. Senator Frank Lautenberg is proposing black powder control in response to the Boston Marathon bombing. Port notes two possibly unintended consequences: (1) Restrictions on gunpowder hinder reloading of spent ammunition, which was one way around ammunition shortages. (2) Unable to get professionally-made black powder, some may resort to manufacturing their own, which will be lower quality and potentially more dangerous:

Here's the thing: Building explosives isn't hard. You can find recipes for making black powder and other explosives/incendiaries in library books. Of course, the problem with home-made black powder is that it's not very good. It'll go boom, just not as reliably.

By restricting access to professionally-made black powder, we're probably doing more to ensure more accidents with people trying to make powder at home than preventing the sort of terrible but, thankfully, rare attacks such as the one in Boston.

(UPDATE: See-Dubya calls my attention to this: One of the bombers bought a couple of large reloadable mortars with 24 shells at a fireworks store across the border in New Hampshire. The store's owner estimates he might have been able to harvest 1.5 pounds of black powder by dismantling the shells. Lautenberg's proposal wouldn't have caught a purchase like this.)

Writing at Next City, MIT urban planning student Andy Cook writes about the eerie quiet on the streets of Boston during the "shelter-in-place":

It was a strange walk studded with realizations of what my neighborhood looks like without the faces that usually draw my attention. There were things I pass everyday that I had never seen before. A cluster of low-slung row houses that had been standing for the last 100 years. Another home being built across the street -- how had I missed the gap that must have been there before? There were flowers, of course, everywhere, and the cashier that sold me a jar of ground coffee gave me the sweetest, saddest smile I've seen in a long time. The only sound I heard as I walked home was wind in the trees, and my own footsteps. My neighborhood was peaceful.

Further on in Cook's article, though, I get the distinct impression of "mission creep" in the realm of urban planning (see Neidlinger above about legislating to abolish human nature):

Many of us came to the department with a do-gooder mentality. We were motivated to pursue planning because we thought it could address the inequity we saw in the world. We felt (and feel) that structural inequality is at the root of societal problems we face on a daily basis, violence and despair among them. Planners are uniquely poised to bring a holistic approach to cumbersome and intractable issue....

More likely, [as professional planners] we'll have to make decisions about policies and resource allocations that help some and hurt others. The challenge of this is two-fold: To understand the complex systems well enough to plan for unintended consequences, and to make sure the consequences won't cause disruption or disenfranchisement that might lead a population to turn to violence as a means of protest, retribution or survival...

Deciphering the "why" behind the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt will be a long and contentious task. For some, it will begin and end with the biography of the bombers themselves. But we should press further, and follow with a close examination of the global systems that foster inequality, breeding hatred and violence internationally. We as Americans and as planners especially must never stop considering the unintended consequences of the systems we live by. We must measure impacts and decide when and how to retool those systems that are broken, that allow for days like Monday to occur.

Those of us who are Christians know that the ultimate brokenness is in the human heart. We can and should work to mitigate the effects of evil, and city planning can be a means to do so, but we will not be able to eradicate evil in this world.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on April 26, 2013 7:12 PM.

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