The Boston bombings: refusing to be terrorised
The spirit and solidarity shown by Bostonians confirm that while terrorism can kill people, it cannot kill community.
As the bombing of the Boston marathon reminded us, acts of terrorism kill and maim innocent people. They cause pain and suffering and intimidate sections of the public. However, they cannot seriously tear apart the integrity of society, or undermine a nation’s way of life. The good news from Boston is that, contrary to how the threat of terrorism is depicted in Hollywood disaster movies, most people manage to get on with their lives and refuse to be terrorised.
Don’t believe the scenes of mass panic and breakdown of social responsibility and civic behaviour that blockbuster disaster flicks give us. The people of Boston demonstrated that the powerful sense of solidarity cannot be destroyed by the physical impact of bombs. Scenes of people rushing to assist wounded runners and spectators show that no one had to suffer the effects of the bombings in isolation, all on their own; they had instant support.
I was particularly touched by the almost instantaneous offering of practical assistance by people living near the bomb site. The following messages on Twitter serve as a testimony the spirit of human generosity and compassion:
‘We have an L couch to offer, one long section and a short section that can fit a smaller (5ft) person. Not much but we’re happy to help!’
‘I live in Hopkinton – but would happily drive anywhere to pick up a runner who needs food, shelter and comfort.’
‘I will come pick up anyone who needs a place to stay. I have a spare bedroom with a queen-sized bed. I am located about 15 minutes from the Franklin MBTA stop and 20 minutes from the Providence airport. I will do whatever I can.’
‘We have two cots (not a 100 per cent private room) and a couch. Plenty of bedding and good food. Don’t hesitate to call us if you need a place to stay. We will do our very best to make you comfortable. Note: we have two friendly cats.’
Such offers of help show that, even in a world of urban detachment and anonymity, people can rise to the occasion and create communities of hope.
And the experience of Boston is by no means unusual. Decades of research into the impact of catastrophic events confirm that affected communities actually experience an increase in socially responsible behaviour. Recent reviews of human responses to terrorism and violence show that most communities have the necessary coping mechanisms for minimising the damage to their way of life.
Studies of the 1995 Sarin attack in Tokyo, the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York in 2001, and the 2005 London bombings show a relative absence of selfish behaviour after terror attacks, and also reveal a strengthening of social solidarity.
Experiences like the Boston bombing provide an opportunity for a community to come to know itself, to discover not only its weaknesses but also its strengths. That is why it is important that the people affected by this kind of tragedy – both directly and indirectly – are given space to learn from their experiences and to develop their own solutions for dealing with what has happened to them. Far too often, experts rush in after violent upheavals and offer up technical and medical solutions for issues that are actually best dealt with by those who have to live with the consequences.
People in Boston, like others who have experienced terrorism, face a sudden disruption to normality, one that calls into question lots of the old attitudes and ways of doing things. In such moments, communities are forced to rethink the purpose of life, and to rediscover the collective bonds of social life. It is the sense of belonging to a community that provides people with a system of meaning that can protect them from the disorienting consequences of terrorism. That is the challenge facing Bostonians now – and it is one that that they are more than able to confront.
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