Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Boston Backlash

Here it comes.

Immediately after one of the most harrowing, frightening, wierdly compelling and sweat-inducing weeks in our recent history, the political backlash is rearing its ugly head. It's emotional and knee-jerk and patently American.

First up is the argument that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is a terrorist and thus should be treated as an enemy combatant, as opposed to a citizen criminal. The Senators pushing this line, Lindsay Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte are reacting from pure emotion. There is no defending what the two brothers did or the dastardly effects of their action a major American city, but can we at least step back a bit and consider the full range of options? Here is a 19 year-old, probably in thrall to his older brother, and probably not as committed to a radical path, who commits murder. By all other accounts, he's a law-abiding person. There are circumstances. Let's calm down.

The Senators assume that a Federal Court would be an inappropriate venue for weighing Dzhokhar's guilt (or innocence, by the way. Does anybody remember that he's still presumed innocent?) and that only a tightly controlled military tribunal will assure his punishment. They think that reading him his Miranda rights is an affront to justice. Not true, and a dangerous assumption. Let's let the FBI do its job. The genius of our legal system is that it must filter out emotional responses. That's what we need to have happen now.

The case also seems to have jolted the immigration debate. Again, the knee-jerk reaction is to shut the door to all immigrants and to throw out all of the illegals. It's as if the debate we've been having over the past four months simply vanished. Yes, we should all have legitimate concerns about the FBI's interview with Tamerlan Tsarnaev and whether government security officials should have done more to follow-up on his trip to Russia and his possible radicalization at the hands of militant Chechen or Al-Queda operatives. But how does a family that, until last week, basically followed the law and applied for legal status according to protocol get to throw an entire system into doubt?

They shouldn't, and it's up to pragmatic, level-headed citizens to see that. We certainly do need border security, but it's not like the Tsarnaev family spirited themselves across the border under cover of night or lived on false papers or were outwardly hostile to the United States. We now know that at least one of them was, inwardly, but how could anyone know that he would commit this act? We can't. That's why it's called terrorism. Because we don't expect it.

And like the gun enthusiasts who said that background checks would not prevent another Newtown, closing the door would not stop another Boston (or, for that matter, another Oklahoma City or September 11). Tamerlan was here for 10 years before he acted. I'm sure there are other legal immigrants in this country who could similarly become radicalized and act in another city. Shall we hunt down all recent immigrants from every other hotspot in the world an follow them? Evict them? Where do we start? Are immigrants from Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Nepal, Tibet, Sri Lanka, the Central African Republic and any other area where there's been civil unrest now eligible for government surveillance?

Speaking of the gun debate, I am extremely interested in where the Tsarnaev brothers got their guns. And whether they were registered. Or bought online. Background check? Based on the Newtown logic, I'm thinking the NRA is now going to call for all people who attend sporting events to carry guns (and for some on the left to outlaw pressure cookers). Or perhaps we should just stop having marathons. Clearly, these would solve the problem.

We need to be more diligent, to be sure, but we also need to step back and process this event logically. Only then can we look at our next steps with clear eyes.

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