Boston Marathon


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra – TRANSCEND Media Service

Already a lot has been written about the Boston Marathon and the tragedy that took place on 15 April 2013. Here I will narrate my personal feeling and emotion that I have after I heard the news about the tragedy from one of my friends and watched the TV and interacted with friends and colleagues in the university. My views may not match with the views of the others including experts in the area, but I think as a conscientious individual I should express them. Though I was not present at the marathon cheering runners up, some of my friends had gone to watch the event but returned back before the blasts. I had come across the news about the preparation of the event, its history, diversity of participating runners, its cultural significance, and its sobering impact on the whole city. Boston is not a very large city, but its cultural depth, its history, its significance in the American life is legendary.  Nobody expected that the event would turn into a tragedy with the blasts killing three people including an eight year old boy not far from my residence and a student, and maiming some people, besides injuring more than hundred, in a flash of seconds.

Grief clouded the whole city on the day of the blast and afterwards. Classes and other academic activities were cancelled in my university. Fear pervaded the people with the sigh of relief that they were not killed or maimed by the blasts, but the question still remained – the death could have been theirs. A surreal revisiting of the 9/11 emerged, and a sense of helplessness and frustration was pervading mind. The two flights turned missiles had taken off from Logan airport and many Bostonians could not forget those horrible days when they found their near or dear ones were passengers in those flights. Though in a smaller scale comparison to the 9/11, the blasts in Boston evoked in the people a sense of helplessness and fear, howsoever transitory that feeling was. President Obama during his speech at Cathedral of the Holy Cross infused courage into the minds of the people when he said ‘you will run again.’ It is but futile to think that fear would subsume the human spirit and its resilience. And great cities like Boston known for its harmony and cultural vibrancy would certainly come back, or has come back with many marathoners resolving to run next year.

One of my colleagues, during conversation, asked ‘why did the individuals commit such heinous acts, killing people?’ The senseless acts are irrational, illogical, emerging out of a mentality, which is sick. I agreed with her. But I wanted to add more in the context of violent acts perpetrated by radical individuals or groups with the sole purpose of killing people and inflicting fear among them. The perpetrator is convinced of the ‘rationale’ of what he or she is going to do, and even readies to sacrifice life for the act. There is the issue of what he thinks and why he thinks what he thinks. From a legal perspective, an act of violence is an act of violence, hence must be subject to law. I do not dispute that. My argument here is – the minds of these perpetrators which are perverted must be changed. I remember here President Obama’s famous speech at Cairo University in 2009, where he emphasized on dialogue among cultures, dialogue among civilizations.

We need more such dialogues; we need more understanding of the situation. Law and order must carry the needed tasks, at the same time, perhaps at a parallel level there need to be more dialogue to impart values of diversity, pluralism and harmony among people, including would be perpetrators.  As I argued at another place, in this drive religious leaders, whether of Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism either individually or in tandem, more in tandem, can play an effective role. These values need to be imparted to all, particularly to children. I understand its apparent feasibility in democratic and liberal states, and apparent difficulty in authoritarian, radical states. An authoritarian ruler or a religious leader with an extremist mind and agenda causes more damage than a lone extremist with no political power. The leader can change or brainwash his followers while a lone terrorist may not. Any sick or perverted mind must be changed, whether the motivation behind is religion, or any other thing.

The blasts reminded me of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks. I was in Mumbai those days. The whole city of 20 million people, also known as commercial capital of India, came to a grinding halt with public offices closed. The city that is known to be awake always – whether in day or in night – was lifeless for about three days with security forces and ten terrorists fighting at the Taj hotel. The attacks killed about 200 people besides injuring many. The blasts at Boston, and terror attacks at Mumbai are different incidents – but the common elements in both the incidents are that innocent lives were lost and culprits were convinced that they are committing barbaric acts for a cause, howsoever perverted or skewed those causes are. This mentality of the perpetrators must be addressed before they commit these acts. Their fundamental assumptions must be questioned and changed before they commit these acts of violence. They must be convinced the worth of peaceful means to address issues. Mahatma Gandhi rightly pointed out; the peaceful goals must be pursued by peaceful means. For him if truth is the goal, non-violence is the means. Gandhi’s definition of truth is not exclusive, rather it is inclusive. For him religion is a path to spiritual realization and for which all religions have equal value. The would-be culprits and culprits alike must be imparted these values.

Boston has come back to life with the Bostonians trying to keep pace with movement of life in their daily activities and practices. I am sure the marathon will continue perhaps with more vigor and more participation. I have a desire to take part in the next marathon. As time passes without our noticing it, and we grow more wise with time and events, we must develop peace education to its full magnitude and spread it world wide. The US with its resources and soft power can take the lead in this noble mission. It must protect its cities and people by all means, but it must invest effectively in peace education. It may prove less expensive than to fight a culprit and address the tragedy after the violent act than to transform him into a peaceful, law abiding citizen of the country, or a peaceful, conscientious member of the world.


Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and an Indian commentator. His areas of interests include India-Russia relations, conflict and peace, and strategic aspects of Eurasian politics.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 29 Apr 2013.

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