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Many people have experienced a sprained ankle. Anyone who participates in sports, let alone basketball or running has probably had a sprained ankle. This man is an ultra-marathon runner. He is not only an ultra-marathon runner. He is probably THE ultra-marathon runner. And he has never had a sprained ankle. He runs up, and more importantly, down mountains. And he has never had a sprained ankle. This man’s name is Kilian Jornet.
Kilian Jornet is something of a mythical creature of the mountains. Not like the Yetti. More like in a positive, spiritual way. Maybe that is why Salomon have been sponsoring him. To my knowledge he is the only fully sponsored ultra-marathon runner in the world at this moment. And they have also made a show about him: Kilian’s Quest.
Kilian has grown up in the mountains. As a child he used to be taken by his mother barefoot into the woods at night to feel the earth through his senses. He won his first world championship at 16. Today he is said to actually physically stop and smell the flowers while winning races and he is known to wait for other racers so they could experience nature together, just before he wins yet another ultra-marathon. His oxygen consumption has been tested and found to be superior to most living top-athletes, at 89.5 ml/Kg/min. He also hardly sweats during his amazing feats, another feature of his top conditioning. Not only that, but Kilian Jornet rarely eats before a race. Kilian says about himself that for him, racing down a mountain is like a dance, something of a reflex or instinct. Maybe it is because of that fact that his ankles are still intact.
The Boston marathon bombing and the manhunt that followed were followed by a very public and lively debate here in the United States, but also in Israel. One of the major issues that were debated were: “Did terror win?”. Our previous post claimed that the heightened reaction to the manhunt and the anxiety the bombing caused among millions of civilians in the Boston area and in other places around the US were proof that the bombers achieved their goals. This post will highlight the opposite (Israeli) opinion – The bombers were apprehended very quickly and Boston citizens were very cooperative showing strength and resilience.
Even Israeli secret police usually takes more time
Israel is very experienced with acts of nationalistic terror and with the need to prevent it or to apprehend those who have managed in conducting an attack. There is a whole branch of Israeli secret services that deals with these matters, sort of an Israeli FBI. It is called the Israeli security agency. They have spies within the Palestinian cities. They have electronic means to follow communications. They have access to urban camera systems. But still, even they usually do not apprehend culprits so soon. Finding the two terrorists within 4 days should be noted as a great deterring factor and success by the FBI and Boston police forces. Future terrorists will know that they will not be able to get away.
The success of American law enforcement mandates further explanation. For years, most of the terror threats have been aimed at the United States from outside of its borders. Therefore, adequately, most of the American efforts to stave off terror have been focusing on international intelligence efforts. Being able to react in such a forceful way to a surprise internal attack should be viewed as a success, not a failure.
And what about the claim that the terrorists could have fled the country? Well, that really depends. Airports have multiple covert security measures. Some of these are designed to “sniff out” explosives. If the suspects had any explosive residue on them, they would not have gotten away. But that is a matter of their sophistication more than anything else.
A terrorist will know – You mess with us, you get shot down
A central claim of those who say that terror won, is that terrorists know well in advance that they will not get away with what they did. But is this true? Did the Tsarnaev brothers really think they will be caught? The younger of the brothers was actually reported to have returned to his campus after the bombing and even attended a party. The brothers also did not surrender after being identified. They kept fighting and they did what they could to remain free and alive. By the quick and aggressive reaction of American security forces a clear message has been sent to future such terrorists – “If you mess with us, we will shut everything down and hunt you down with all we’ve got”. That is not a statement to be trifled with.
Staying inside is a sign of cooperation, not fear
After the manhunt a major claim that has been brought forward was that the fact that people stayed home was a sign of fear. That is not true. Any police chief would tell you that it is much easier to conduct a manhunt when there is no one around to confuse you and when police can move forces freely from point to point. The fact is that the Boston lock-down was a reaction to the MIT shooting that occurred overnight. That allowed a lock-down to be instituted overnight as well. In many other major cities, authorities do not have that privilege and they have to work under sub-optimal condition. It may have very well been that the lock-down allowed the second suspect to be apprehended so quickly.
And to summarize this point – One must remember that the person that actually found the second suspect was a civilian. He obeyed authorities and came out only when prompted. When he found the suspect he acted in a cool headed manner, keeping himself alive and notifying the police immediately.
Fear is a normal human reaction to a new type of intrusion
Perhaps the most controversial of claims is whether or not Bostonians showed weakness by being truly afraid. There is no arguing the fact that many Bostonians were anxious way beyond proportion. Public life was stunted (to paraphrase Obama). People from the outskirts of the city were afraid to come near it, even before the lock-down. But one must remember another fact. One must remember that Boston, and the United States for that matter, is thankfully not a city that is accustomed to terror. Bostonians are not cowards. Far from it. These decedents of Irish and Italian working class parents give meaning to the phrase “Boston Strong“. They know how to tackle hardship. They know how to react to crime. They have just never been confronted by acts of terror before. For years they have been told what terror is by their television and by movies. The closest notion many had about a city being terrorized was from Hollywood depictions. Those are indeed frightening. Therefore, being anxious or even afraid after something like that even makes sense. Hopefully, they will not need to get used to this in the future.
Yesterday after a 4 day manhunt, one of the Boston marathon bombers was killed and the other was apprehended. No one can or should argue with this outcome. The people of Boston will get the justice that they deserve and there is no doubt that apprehending the younger brother will prove valuable when it comes to intelligence about future threats.
However that is not the whole story. The whole story should also shed light on the fact that two brothers working very much alone in a quiet middle class suburb managed to paralyze a city of 2 million people. While doing that they have caused terror and anxiety and have proven to others that may have been contemplating the value of similar actions that while getting away unscathed is probably impossible, their cause will have been served.
The Boston marathon bombers could have gotten away with it
Think about the following scenario. The Boston marathon bombers plant and detonate the bombs. They quietly slip away while detonating them. As havoc reeks through the streets, they catch a cab on a nearby street and an hour later catch a plane to any European country. A train ride after that and they are in their native Chechnya of Dagestan. End of story.
The two terrorist brothers were Chechnyans or whatever. They are not Russian. They come from a different culture. I don’t know how many of my readers know the Caucasus mentality. Some Caucasus men are known to be hard headed. Boxing and wrestling are typical activities as physical strength and resilience are highly regarded. Not giving up is another admired trait. They have a saying in the Caucasus: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”. That kind of mentality probably leads to some stupid decisions. Like “let’s stay and fight”. But if they wanted to, these two could have lived in glory in Chechnya for years, or at least until a Navy Seal team came a-knockin’.
The Boston police got lucky
Everybody who has followed the events that transpired during the Boston manhunt knew that at least one of the suspects should be apprehended alive. That was imperative for prevention of future events and for the understanding of their true motives in planting the Boston marathon bombs.
However, the state of mind of the people “on the ground” was different. It seems to me that at least for some it was hateful, not objective and perhaps shallow. It was “good vs. evil”. Looking at it as an Israeli I could only imagine the “Hollywood” scenarios that ran through some people’s minds. People just seemed to refuse to see the facts and resorted to their fantasies of what terror was. A commentator on CBS, Peter Krause, was right when he said that American’s currently do not even begin to understand the state of mind terrorists are in. Resorting to cliches like “give peace a chance” is just irrelevant. It is neither right nor wrong. It does not belong in this discussion.
Furthermore, reporters on TV kept instigating, saying stupid things like “the second suspect is probably hiding in a hole like a snake”. What snake?! This judgmental approach took away from the cool headed objectivity that was needed. People kept telling the reporters that these two brothers were always friendly and okay people. But the way terrorists look on TV is different. They are not “
athletes” and friendly students as these two were, but rather unattractive Middle-Eastern looking men who constantly plot.
I think it is for these reasons, when the second brother was found in the boat, gunfire was EXCHANGED. I think the first responders are brave and they should be commended for it. But I think putting the suspect at risk was wrong. So what if he fired a few rounds? The police had him surrounded and they could and should have just smoked him out or waited him out (as they did after their first reaction very quickly and professionally). But I think that the first reponders were so filled with pseudo-heroic nonsense that they shot back. They were lucky they did not kill him.
The Boston police got lucky – again
Fact: The police went from door to door for hours. Fact: The police did not find the second suspect and issued a press release allowing besieged citizens to resume normal life. Fact: The suspect was found several minutes later just under their noses and apprehended only after yet another dangerous (and pointless) gun fight.
I am no expert. But I have seen quite a few terrorist attacks and I have never seen such a siege and so many policemen going door to door and in the end not even finding their guy. Luckily the boat owner was both vigilant and kept his composure. Otherwise, I think the bomber would have just bled to death in the boat ending a ridiculous manhunt with nothing to show for it.
The Boston marathon bombing should be put in perspective
I don’t know what makes people do crazy ideas like planting bombs or otherwise terrorizing communities under the premise of “justice” or “god’s will” or some other asinine idea. But if I were a terrorist wannabe, and if I had seen the events as they have unfolded, I would have become charged. I would have been energized by what I would have perceived as success beyond any expectations. And even more so. If I were a foreign, unfriendly, government interested in causing internal US mayhem and deflecting eyes from, say, my nuclear aspirations, I would also be quite intrigued by the the American hyper-reaction (not to say the overkill of the century) to the marathon bombing and manhunt.
Let’s put things in perspective. The United States are a really safe place when it comes to terror. When it comes to crime, domestic violence, crazy people with guns – less so. But when it comes to terror, very little comes to the surface. I bet this is because of a combination of good intelligence, blocking outside efforts, deterring internal insurgencies and also probably because life here is just too good to ruin and once people get here they get it.
The Boston marathon bombing was terrible. People were killed, injured, crippled and scarred for life. A beautiful social tradition has been tarnished. Okay. But think of this event as one in a line linked to the IRA bombing in the UK, to bus bombing in the Middle East, to market bombings in Iraq, to embassy attacks around the world, to 9/11 and countless other terrorist attacks. This is how wars are fought today. And a lot of winning or losing relies on not losing composure. In this context, the Boston marathon bombing is just another focal event. Think for a minute about any terrorist attack that you have heard of over the news (assuming you have, as news in the US tends to be very local). Have you ever heard of cities being put under siege? The trick will be to keep future ideologists from wanting to repeat similar actions. The trick will be not to give terrorists the incentives to try again, and again and again.
Internal terrorist attacks in the United States are not difficult to execute
Planning and executing countless more terrorist attacks in the United States is very easy from a technical standpoint. Guns and ammunition are very easy to come by. Civilian rights make it very hard for governmental agencies to really follow potentially dangerous communities or individuals and this is a country of immigrants who come from various backgrounds. In particular, some immigrants do not come from democratic societies and may even have incentives to undermine the very essence of the democratic institution.
There are places in the world where going to the movies or to the mall or walking into a museum entails a quick security check. Nothing cumbersome. Just a quick look, a friendly “Hello” and a nod through. I think that freedom which is cherished by any person, and by Americans in particular may be better served if heightened everyday vigilance replaced an over-reaction to a singular event.
Coming from the Middle East I am no stranger to yesterday’s Boston marathon bombing. The first reaction to the explosion, the anticipation of the seemingly endless news coverage, the guesses, the anger, the heart-warming human reactions. All these seem all too familiar. As an Israeli I am unfortunately all too experienced when it comes to terrorist attacks. Here are some of my thoughts.
The Boston marathon bombing should be a game changer
Coming from Israel, one of the first things you notice in the United States is how everything is open and accessible. There are practically no security measures when going into a mall or a movie theater or a restaurant or a concert. Heck. You cannot go onto a plane with your shoes, but you can walk into a major packed train station with a Duffle bag full of whatever you want. That has to change. I think that the Boston marathon bombing should not prevent future events, it should not stop life. But the bombing should change the way events and public places are perceived. Next time when a concert is in town a guard should be able to peek into your bag at the door. On your next train ride you will have to go through another guard. These should not only be random bag checks. That will make things all too easy for those who plan on doing harm. Simple, yet effective security measures should be put in place at all times. In Israel, guards like these have saved many lives (or at least have tried to) many a time.
By the way – a few months ago we saw a suitcase just laying on the ground near the Boston Holocaust memorial (of all places!). We called 911. They did not know what we wanted. We saw a police officer in the street. The idiot just picked the suitcase up and shook it and opened it – just the things that could detonate a bomb. This kind of reaction should change and improve.
Terror has a way of bringing people together
Terror has a weird way of showing the best side of people. People are giving blood. People are volunteering to help (even if some people are taking advantage of that fact). People are looking for ways to make things easier on the victims. After the marathon bombing I got 20 phone calls, emails, Facebook messages and text-messages making sure we were okay. Of course we were okay. And of course all of our friends knew that beforehand. But that did not matter. They still wanted to make sure. They still stopped their normal work-day and asked. They still woke us in the middle of the night just to inquire on our well being (which was okay until they woke us up). It is weird, but it is probably part of human nature to cling together at times like this. Israelis always took pride of that and Bostonian people are no exception.
Terror has no boundaries
Terror really does not have any boundaries. The fact that the Boston marathon bombing is so reminiscent of car bombings in London and of terrorist attacks in the Middle East is yet another proof. The fact that terrorists used two bombs (and perhaps others that did not detonate) shows that terrorists learn from each other and mimic their techniques (only four days ago a dual bombing killed over a dozen people near a mosque in Iraq). Terror is a global problem. It is everyone’s problem. It is not just a problem of a specific nation or people.
Cynicism is a coping mechanism
People react to stress and tragedy in different ways. In Israel people feel the same grief and sometimes the same fear as people in Boston must be feeling after the marathon bombing. However, people in Israel do not tend to externalize these fact. After a terrorist attach in Israel people show anger. They show their tough side. They say things that may sound terrible and cynical. But that does not mean they don’t care. It is their way of coping, of moving on and of saying to whomever planned the attacks that they can basically go fuck themselves as terror will not deter people from living their normal lives.
Get back to normal life as quickly as possible
Here is how I think terror impacts us. By using very little funds and by being organized in very thin-nit groups, people cause cohesive and flourishing nations to change habits, to live in fear and to spend unimaginable funds. That is just wrong. That is the bully being let to run the show.
In my opinion the best thing that can be done after a bombing is to get back to normal life. Don’t close off a whole neighborhood (like the Boston backbay is now closed – A friend of mine was told that she cannot go home and that she needs to go to a homeless shelter because this is not a ‘crime scene’). Quite the opposite. Let people move on. Don’t spend enormous amounts of dollars on threats that as a nation do nothing to harm you. Act as though you are brushing these events off and move on. Only by moving on will we be able to safely say that the Boston marathon bombing did not have whatever negative effect the planners had for it.
One of the first things I heard people saying after the Marathon bombing was that now future events were in jeopardy. That future gatherings such as Summer concerts at the Hatch-Dome will be cancelled. People were worried about 4th of July events. Well we should not cancel these events. We should have them. We should all be vigilant and security measures may be needed (such as bag checks entering the premises) but otherwise, life should and must go on. Otherwise the marathon bomber will just fuel the next event.