To each age its own Terror. The ancient Egyptians succumbed to the predations of the obscure Sea Peoples; the Greeks just managed, by naval ingenuity, to stave off the overwhelming might of the Persian Empire; for centuries the Romans stood shaky watch against the cross-border incursions of beer-swilling hairy blond Germanic barbarians.
To each age its own Terror.
The ancient Egyptians succumbed to the predations of the obscure Sea Peoples; the Greeks just managed, by naval ingenuity, to stave off the overwhelming might of the Persian Empire; for centuries the Romans stood shaky watch against the cross-border incursions of beer-swilling hairy blond Germanic barbarians.
So too did Viking raiders scare medieval Irish monks completely shitless. The sweeping conquests of the Mongol horde left an indelible mark on the national psychologies of Russia, China and India. And, to this day, Latin American leaders live in paranoid awe—for good reason—of the yanqui Monroe Doctrine military-
There will always be the threat of the Other. But in this monopolar age of the West and the Rest, the Other is not a people, nor an army, nor even a shadowy, conspiratorial international organization.
Our Other is an ideology.
And an ideology, no matter how specious or ill-conceived, cannot be killed.
This is the lesson of last month’s Boston Marathon bombings. Brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the attack’s suspected perpetrators, seem to have conceived, planned and executed their operation without any assistance from a larger terrorist organization. The attack was admittedly an amateurish and low-tech affair: The bombs were assembled from such easily obtainable components as pressure cookers, fireworks and construction nails. The suspects barely put any thought into escaping capture.
All the worse.
Two half-competent global-jihad neophytes managed to kill three, maim more than 200 and send a suburb of Boston into complete lockdown for nearly 24 hours.
And for what? The Tsarnaevs set fire to themselves and the city of Boston to broadcast just one message: Modern life, secular culture, global capitalism, the United States of America—we do not like you.
But irrespective of the role elder brother Tamerlan’s radical Islamic beliefs played in the attack, this bulletin does not pertain in any way to Islam or any other religious practice. It’s simply the Excluded’s expression of roiling anger. It is an ideology of Opposition, the anti-Everything. The Brothers Tsarnaev are anarchist crust-punks without the patched jeans and heroin.
It would be premature to psychoanalyze the Tsarnaevs, and Tamerlan took his motives to the grave. But the brothers’ decision to partake in an act of mass terror aligns them with this global expression of limitless rage. So long as the West is wealthy, peaceful and prosperous, and the Rest are poor, war-torn and downtrodden, there will be those who lash out at this inequality and attempt to violently destroy the prevailing global political and economic paradigm.
Transportation Security Administration checkpoints and 24-hour aerial drone surveillance ain’t going to stop them. Neither will the national surveillance apparatus: Tamerlan was ignored by both the FBI and the CIA when the Russian secret police fingered him as a possible Islamic radical in 2011.
Nor will a massive military show of force cow the omnipresent opposition. As a point of fact, Dzhokhar Tsarvaev stated that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were significant motivating factors behind the attack.
And it’d be virtually impossible to stop another soft-target attack such as the one in Boston. Who’s going to tolerate the authorities cordoning off an entire 26.2-mile marathon street course? Or police frisks on every street corner?
So unless the Western world collapses under the weight of economic calamity or internecine violence and pulls down in its undertow its cultural signatures of capitalism, secularism and scientific rationalism, we will need to get used to the idea that bad shit will happen. In all likelihood, worse shit than the April 15 bombings.
So consider this question, Americans: What does security mean to you?
Two-and-a-half kids, a dog and a house in the suburbs? A six-figure job tied to a 401k and excellent health insurance? A network of concrete tunnels underneath your home accessible only by a hidden trapdoor in the cellar, booby-trapped against intruders and stocked with a 10 years’ cache of beef jerky, Heinz baked beans and
5.56 mm ammunition?
Or is security merely a peace of mind, the fuzzy blanket of living safe in the knowledge that you won’t be maimed or killed by perfect strangers in a public place for no apparent reason?
Not so much to ask. But it’s long gone.
All that’s left is Terror.