He gave a very balanced statement and emphasized two core things: that we still do not know the precise motives of the Tsarnaev brothers and should strenuously resist any inferences from shards of information that could cast aspersions on any groups of people. He insisted, as he often does, on portraying the cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of America as a real strength rather than in any way a weakness.
I agree. At the same time, understanding the motives for such an act and their potential connection to religious fanaticism is important – and no one should apologize for noticing Jihadist sentiments in some aspects of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s Internet trail. But it should be weighed alongside possible personal and psychological struggles, which may explain more. We should, in other words, close off nothing. But I certainly don’t get the sense from the authorities as of now that this could be part of some wider and serious terror plot. We’ll see, of course. But the relief on the official faces in Boston tonight seemed genuine to me.
The second point the president made was about West, Texas. And it was an extremely important point to make.
The devastation in that little town is hard to describe – the trauma still reverberating. The death toll is more than double Boston’s. Both matter, and purposeful, criminal murder is not to be taken in any way lightly. But terrorism is not the only form of tragedy; and retaining some perspective is essential to facing terrorism down and defeating its psychic leverage over us.
In the end, after the lockdown of an entire city, a massive, mechanized robot and helicopter army came face to face with a bleeding nineteen-year-old hiding in a shrink-wrapped boat. That almost Freudian disparity is worth keeping in mind in the days ahead. So is the pain in Texas, where an entire community was almost just wiped off the map.
(Photo: Residents attend a candelight vigil and prayer honoring the victims of West Fertilizer Company explosion at St. Mary’s Assumption Catholic Church April 18, 2013 in West, Texas. A fiery explosion that damaged or destroyed buildings within a half-mile radius ripped through the facility Wednesday night, injuring more than 160 people and killing an unknown number of others. By Kevork Djansezian/Getty.)