Running for Boston — and America

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For nearly 12 years since the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, Americans have had an image of what they believe a terrorist looks like stuck in their heads: A man, likely in his 20s or 30s, of Middle Eastern descent, vowing to fight the U.S. to the death. But the Tsarnaev brothers turned that image on its head. Suddenly the terrorists were white –– not “dark-skinned,” as CNN’s John King wrongly pointed out in a remark with racial undertones. As children, the Tsarnaevs were, perhaps, caught up in breakaway Chechnya’s bloody fight for independence from Russia, but we are uncertain precisely what happened during their childhood.

What we do know is that they were raised here. They attended American schools, where they apparently adjusted to life in the U.S. and blended in. They did not fit the image of Muslim extremists. They were, by most accounts, two normal-looking young men who played sports and partied. Both attended college.

But there was clearly a darker side to these two men, hidden from view. Reportedly, they may have sold marijuana to support themselves. According to the Boston Globe, authorities are now eyeing Tamerlan as a possible suspect in a gruesome triple homicide on Sept. 11, 2011, in which all three victims’ throats were slashed and their bodies sprinkled with marijuana.

In short, it is unclear whether the brothers were motivated by religious fanaticism or by deep-seated pathological tendencies, or both.

No matter. They made it clear to us, once again, that we live in a world fraught with danger –– a world in which your life can change in an instant. One minute you may be standing near the Boston Marathon finish line, cheering, feeling good, making plans for evening festivities to celebrate a loved one’s participation in one of the world’s great road races. The next minute, kaboom! A bomb detonates behind you, sending shrapnel flying in all directions, and your life is forever thrown off course –– perhaps ended.

New Yorkers understand Boston’s pain all too well. There is no naiveté here. We know that evil exists in the world. We understand that life is fragile. It can be taken without even a moment’s notice.
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