The Message from Boston

Public reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings and the identity of the perpetrators reveals a very different nation from the one reflected in the traumatized and occasionally hysterical responses to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. America is less likely to interpret events, even attacks, in simplistic us-versus-them terms.

PRINCETON – America has grown up. Public reaction to the Boston Marathon bombings and the identity of the perpetrators reveals a very different nation from the one reflected in the traumatized and occasionally hysterical responses to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. The magnitude of the two attacks was, of course, very different – thousands were killed and major national landmarks destroyed in 2001, whereas the Boston bombing killed three people and injured roughly 260. Still, it was the first major attack on the United States since 2001, and the contrast between now and then is instructive.

Consider the social-media buzz within minutes of the bombing. The New York Post, a tabloid, emitted a stream of sensational reportage claiming that 12 people had been killed and that a Saudi national was “under guard” at a Boston hospital. Veteran reporters and columnists immediately countered with questions about the Post’s sources and the lack of confirmation for what it was reporting. Kerri Miller of Minnesota Public Radio tweeted that she had covered the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which was first reported as a gas explosion, then as an attack by foreign terrorists, and finally as the work of domestic extremists.

This caution and restraint stemmed directly from a collective awareness of the many innocent Muslim-Americans who suffered from Americans’ ignorance and wrath following the 2001 attacks. Indeed, equally striking was the number of pundits who suggested that the Boston bombing was homegrown, more similar to the Oklahoma City attack or the mass shooting last December of first graders in Newtown, Connecticut, than to the 2001 plot. The America of 2013, unlike the America of 2001, is willing to recognize its own pathologies before looking for enemies abroad.

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