04/25/2013 02:53 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2013

American Terror: Reflections From Boston

I went to Boston last weekend. I wasn't totally sure what I hoped to accomplish; I just knew I had to go home. The first place I went was Cambridge, where I hugged my best friend so hard she could barely breathe. As we sat around her apartment watching the news, she soon relaxed to the point where she could finally get some sleep.

On Saturday, I was inevitably drawn to downtown Boston. As the threat of Friday faded, as the Humvees and soldiers departed the Common and college kids flocked to the main hill to enjoy a warm Saturday afternoon, the instincts to survive and protect gave way to other thoughts. I felt grateful for my father, who helped many immigrants integrate into American society during his 30 years as a professor at Bunker Hill Community College. He was a few miles from completing his final Boston Marathon when the bombs went off.

I slowly made my way to the Back Bay. As I watched people grieve at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley Streets, and as I explored the spontaneous memorials cropping up around the city, I began to reflect on how terrorism has changed us as Americans.

On the one hand, I think it has made us more compassionate and understanding, as evidenced by numerous manifestations of solidarity with victims of violence everywhere. But on the other hand, our fear has led us into dark places.

The tragic series of events that began with bombs on Patriots' Day and continued with bullets on Thursday night reminded us of the demons that haunt us. I'm not talking about the horrible fact of terror and violence that people all over the world must deal with. I am referring to the demons that we have created since 9/11: those of war, torture, incarceration without trial, and Islamophobia.

In the chaotic aftermath of the Boston bombings, we wrongfully implicated a Moroccan teenager and a Saudi student for no apparent reason other than their skin tone and national origins; we watched as traditional and social media recklessly speculated about potential culprits and motives; and we heard some of our leaders clamoring to subvert the Constitution of the United States of America by stripping the accused U.S. citizen of his right to the due process of law.

Meanwhile, Guantánamo remains open and its abused inmates, many of whom were mistakenly apprehended, hold a hunger strike in a desperate, peaceful effort to reclaim their human rights. Our lethal drones hover ominously around troubled parts of the world, bringing terror and death to innocent civilians as we close our eyes and cover our ears, telling ourselves that it is a small price to pay for the enemy combatants that we do kill. Our fellow Muslim Americans are treated like second-class citizens and we disrespect Muslims around the world, no matter how peaceful and dignified they may be.

I went to Boston to grieve and to provide comfort, but I also ended up being reminded of the values that we hold dear. I went to the cradle of American liberty to pay my respects, to hold my loved ones close, and to immerse myself in the spirit of inquiry, introspection, and civic discourse that has carried this country forward over the centuries, and which will do so now.

No one is arguing that we should not protect ourselves against those who seek to inflict violence and suffering upon us. Few would argue that we should not use the tools at our disposal to track, disrupt, capture, and sometimes kill the specific groups and individuals who have declared war on us.

What many patriotic Americans loathe is that we have not been true to our values. We have taken a step backwards in our quest to live up to the creed that all people are created equal, regardless of race, religion, or national origin. Consumed by fear and suspicion, we have forgotten that no injustice can be rectified through further injustice.

The question is not whether to hunt terrorists. The question is: how many innocent lives are we willing to destroy in bringing these criminals to justice?

I don't have the answers to this and other questions about how to balance security with liberty and human dignity. What I do know is that many of our actions around the world since 9/11 have bred understandable anger and resentment against our country, inspiring some to take up arms against us who otherwise would not have.

I also know that we, as a civil society, can do better. We can learn to live with our fears and to take appropriate precautions without abandoning our principles. We can treat with fairness and respect our fellow citizens of the world. We can right our wrongs and move forward without shame.

As we grieve this tragedy, this atrocity, let us not forget that the innocent victims of violence all over the world suffer no less than those in Boston. Let's not forget about the innocent victims of our own violence.


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