THE BLOG

Boston and Middle East: Violence to Innocents Is a Tie That Binds

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On Monday, I arrived in Beirut, Lebanon at about 9:45 local time,
after a long trip from home in Boston. I sent a text message to my
husband to let him know that I landed safely. Soon after, while
checking into my hotel, I received a message back saying, "There were
two bombs that went off at Copley sq but kids are home and safe." In
my confusion and shock, I cried "What?! Bombs in Copley Square?!" and
the Lebanese hotel clerk asked me what was the matter. I explained
what I had just learned, and he said, "Thank God, your family is
safe." The next day, he said, "I was the first Lebanese to learn of
the bombings in Boston."

The irony of the situation was hard to miss. Here I was in Lebanon, a
country that Western press reports depict as perpetually on the brink
of a new civil war and that has witnessed more than its share of
bombings, war, and terror. Just one day earlier, as I prepared to
leave for my latest research trip to Lebanon, friends in Boston had
cautioned me to be careful there and asked whether the war in
neighboring Syria threatened to spill over. I assured them that I felt
perfectly at ease in Lebanon, emphasizing that the country's political
leaders in Lebanon have thus far done a pretty good job of holding the
country together, despite mounting regional tensions. Little did I
know that Boston would be the site of a terrorist attack.

After checking in, I raced upstairs to my room and watched the
aftermath of the attacks in my neighborhood unfold on Arabic satellite
television channels. It was surreal to see shots of the Boston Public
Library, the Lenox Hotel, and what appeared to be the hollowed-out
shells of stores such as Marathon Sports and Sugar Heaven located at
the finish line of the Boston Marathon. While commentators on
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya described the attacks, images of injured
and shocked bystanders and marathoners and the efforts of first
responders and good Samaritans played out on the screen. Whenever I
watch these channels, the images of destruction, loss, and tragedy are
from Afghanistan, Iraq, and, most recently, Syria, among other places
in the region -- not Boston.

Boston has undergone a terrible tragedy. The pain that the families of
the victims are experiencing must be unbearable. My heart goes out to
them. Even those who were not injured by the explosions will suffer
from the shock and trauma of the event. Life will never be the same.
Sadly, what Boston just experienced has become a fact of life for
Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Syrians, and others in this region.
Depending on where the war has traveled in your country, going to buy
bread or sending your children out to play is a game of Russian
roulette. Beyond the very real possibility of death and destruction,
the psychological toll of living under these conditions is enormous.
The Lebanese know this all too well, having lived through 15 years of
civil wars, subsequent Israeli invasions, and a series of
unpredictable car bombs targeting political leaders and public figures
that often kill innocent bystanders.

Under these conditions, people adapt by developing new understandings
of space, conceptualizing bombs several blocks away as "far off," and
learning to live with uncertainty and threat. But these are coping
mechanisms that have their after-effects. Several years ago in
Lebanon, I met a team of doctors from Doctors Without Borders. I asked
them why they planned to work in Lebanon, which was no longer an
active war zone. They explained that the population has high levels of
psychological trauma, a normal response to all that they have
witnessed.

In the aftermath of the Boston bombings, students at the school that
my children attend have expressed fear and confusion, and the school's
administrators have admirably stepped in to bring in a professional
counselor to work with them and their parents. Some witnessed the
bombings, albeit from a safe distance, and stories abound of near
misses -- families watching from the finish line who chose to leave
before the explosions occurred for a variety of reasons that, in
retrospect, amount to random luck. Our own daughter had watched from
the precise location of the first bomb with a friend and her friend's
mother. Forty-five minutes before the bombs went off, they left
because they were cold.

Based on what our community in Boston has undergone, I can only begin
to imagine the nightmares and terrors that families in Iraq, Syria,
Lebanon, Afghanistan and elsewhere across the globe have experienced
as violence has invaded their everyday lives. Sadly, violence to
innocents is a tie that binds.