I am from the Boston area originally, and I have lived here for 85% of my life. I consider myself to be a liberal, as do the majority of the people I grew up with.
But some of the commentary I’ve seen about this situation, particularly from my fellow liberals, has been so off-base. People seem to be in a rush to paint a picture of the situation that fits their own political ideology, rather than take the time to collect all of the facts.
I know that in the past, when tragic events like this have occurred in other parts of the world, I didn’t think twice about whether or not it was appropriate for me to give my opinion. But now that something like this has happened in my own backyard, I realize now how wrong I was.
First of all, there is such a thing as too-soon. If your immediate response to an event like this is “oh no, which of our civil liberties will they take away now?” it means you didn’t have anything on the line. On Monday, if you lived near Boston, your only response was shock and sadness.
My Facebook feed on Monday was a good example of this. My Boston-area friends were only posting status updates of grief, or updates that made an attempt to comfort. We were also posting real-time updates about what was going on in an attempt to make sense of the situation and to keep each other safe. Similarly, most of my friends from across the country were sending their condolences and expressing their concern.
But of course there were a few people, several states away, who just felt an immediate need to criticize. Without pausing to express any sort of sympathy for the victims (I don’t consider myself to be a victim. But the victims were all I could think about) they launched into a totally cynical discussion about how the government will try to take away more of our civil liberties, or how there are worse tragedies that happen in other countries.
Let me be clear: I am not writing this to defend US foreign policy. I know that we have played a role in some horrible things. I know that our drone policy, in particular, has killed many innocent civilians. Believe me, if I was in charge of things, I would do my best to make sure this came to an end.
But if you think this makes what happened in Boston any less bad, you really need to stop and think. Isn’t the whole point of raising awareness about these atrocities in other parts of the world that innocent civilians are the same everywhere? If you somehow think it’s less bad that people died in Boston because of the things the US does abroad, it’s a sign that you’ve lost touch with a basic piece of your inner humanity, and you need to find it again.
To my fellow liberals, I know you have the right motivations in your heart. I know you have been so sad, for so long, about the things you know are happening abroad that you can’t resist drawing comparisons to an attack that happens here. But when you start to see deaths that happen in the US not as tragedies in their own right but as a symbol of the deaths the US causes abroad, you are missing the point.
Even liberals can be guilty of exploiting one tragedy in order to raise awareness about another.
Something you need to know about Boston is that it is home to citizens who care deeply about those in other parts of the world. This city is home to more progressive activist organizations and human-rights oriented NGO’s than I can count. And if ever a city voted to try to put an end to Bush’s War on Terror, it was Boston. (I know many would argue that wasn’t actually accomplished with the election of Obama. But that’s why we voted for him, based on his campaign rhetoric).
This is why it comes off as condescending when people in other parts of the country assume that Bostonians need to be reminded to stop and consider those around them.
People come from all over the world to run the Boston Marathon. Why? Because they feel welcome. If you’ve seen news footage of the explosions, you should have noticed that the first bomb went off behind a row of flags representing countries from all over the world.
When the first bomb went off, you could see people running towards the site of the explosion, not away. These people had no idea whether or not there was another bomb, yet they overcame the impulse to flee upon hearing the cries of the wounded.
So stop acting like what happened in Boston is some kind of karmic event, or like we deserved it. Please stop comparing-and-contrasting it to other tragedies. If your immediate reaction to a tragedy like this is to immediately compare it to something you consider to be worse, you are probably exploiting it.
There might be a way to have this conversation the right way, to use the experience that people have now had here as a way to bring awareness to similar tragedies in other countries.
But you need to know that in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, those for whom it has hit closest to home are in a state of shell-shock. In the immediate aftermath of the event, people in Boston were on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to find out if our friends and family are okay. As a form of vigilance: people were posting updates in real time, and we were relaying them to others as a way of keeping everyone safe. On Monday, cell phone service was jammed in Boston, as a result of the extremely high call volume. Social media was the only reliable to communicate.
If you want people to be receptive to your message, don’t try to interject it into this moment. You are exploiting a tragedy when your knee-jerk reaction on Facebook or Twitter gets in the way of our actually getting information that is immediately related to safety.
And please, wait until you collect the facts. It’s been pretty clear who was actually reflecting about this situation, and who was having a knee-jerk reaction colored by their pre-existing political views.
The next time there is a tragic event like this anywhere in the world, I am going to wait several days before I do anything besides express my condolences. If you have any kind of deeper message to get across, the people actually affected by the tragedy probably won’t be ready to hear it. And you, being miles and miles away, will probably not have enough information to actually make any kind of judgment.
**Picture credit Peter Tschudy