The bombing last week in Boston is a tragic reminder of the pointlessness of violence. Whatever political agenda the alleged bombers had, it is difficult to see how it could be advanced in any meaningful way by killing an 8-year old boy. If the motive was indeed related to America's conflict with segments of the Islamic world, the bombing is yet another example of the failed strategy of killing innocent civilians in retribution for western government policies; the response to such killings is usually just an intensification of those very same policies. Just ask a Palestinian.
At the same time, beneath the dominant blanket of media coverage focused on the attack, there are Americans asking questions about the manner in which the Boston bombings have been treated in American society. Why is it that the three tragic deaths in Boston received such a disproportionate amount of media attention relative to the fourteen tragic deaths at the site of the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas? If the answer to that question involves the distinction between murder and natural disaster, then why do routine triple-homicides in America's inner cities not receive similar outpourings of grief? And how would the media be covering the Boston attacks if the perpetrators had been native-born Americans protesting U.S. tax policy rather than immigrants protesting U.S. foreign policy?
At the heart of these questions is a very simple perspective: our media's obsession with this case and with the Muslim, Foreign, Chechnyan, Immigrant, Jihadist brothers at its epicenter demonstrates a very skewed perspective on the value of human life and on the unity of the human race. The enemy is defined as anti-American terrorists. If "we" is defined as Americans, then this makes sense. But if "we" is defined as humanity, then a very different enemy needs to be identified.
That enemy is violence. Violence, in all of its forms, leaves a path of hatred and destruction in its wake. A path of dead children and grieving mothers and broken lives. This notion isn't merely the expression of a particular political, religious, or even spiritual ideology, but rather the acknowledgement of a central truth: for every instance in which violence has allegedly made life better in some way, there are literally thousands of instances in which violence intended to do good has destroyed lives. This is a practical argument. Violence, as an ideology, as a tool, has failed.
So if we as Americans can identify violence and all of its manifestations (Sandy Hook, Boston, the streets of Chicago) as the real enemy, then we are faced with a very simple proposition: Either we believe a dead Congolese child is just as important as a dead American child, or we don't. Either we believe that the families of dead children in our inner cities suffer a grief just as powerful as that of the families of the suburban victims in Aurora, Colorado, or we don't. Either we believe that Palestinian lives are as valuable as Israeli lives, that Afghan lives are as valuable as French lives, or we don't. And either we believe that children in Mozambique do adorable things and have nicknames and spend nights looking up at the stars and wondering about the nature of the universe and when they are taken from their families way too soon the loss their parents feel is as debilitating and crushing as it would be if our children were taken from us, or we don't.
If we believe that, then our actions need to reflect it. Our media coverage needs to reflect it. Our government's policies need to reflect it. If we as Americans believe so highly in the value of human life, we should urge our government to stop supporting dictators, to stop using drones to attack funeral parties, to stop exporting weapons. We should pass gun control measures that are supported by more than 90% of NRA members and could curb gun violence. We should support economic policies that decrease food insecurity in areas of the world vulnerable to famine. Caring about human life has to mean more than just wearing a "Boston Strong" shirt and shaking our fists at the terrorists.
There are some cynical reflections on Boston floating around cyber space that in essence imply that given the discrepancy in media interest between the loss of white/American life and the loss of black/brown/foreign life, perhaps we should all just care less about what happened at the marathon.
Every child's death should matter as much as 8-year old Martin Richard's. In a photo released to the Boston Globe, Martin, who was killed in the bombing attack, is shown holding a sign that says "No more hurting people. Peace." Maybe that's partly what makes the death of children so painful: in some sense, they are better than we are, because they know so much less and yet they know so much more. They get it.