Seeing Our Own Bitter Division Through the Prism of Boston Marathon Bombings

Right and Left Can't Agree on Real Threat

getty images

By J.J. Goldberg

Published April 19, 2013, issue of April 26, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Moments after the bombs exploded on Monday, April 15 along the Boston Marathon route, it was already clear what the attack’s main goal was. It was a deliberate assault on America’s public order and national self-confidence. That’s the purpose of all terrorist actions, whoever their perpetrators. They’re intended to terrorize, to unsettle.

That’s why President Obama declared the next morning that beyond the certainty that the crime would be solved, “we also know this: The American people refuse to be terrorized.”

Less obvious was the attack’s secondary impact. Intentionally or not, the bombing opened a new front in America’s ongoing culture wars. Within minutes of the blasts, the Twittersphere came alive with finger-pointing and outraged denials. The right flatly declared it to be jihadi terrorism. The left just as insistently named other possible culprits on the domestic far-right. Each side’s assumptions left the other righteously appalled.

Liberals noted the symbolic timing of the attack, coinciding with Tax Day, Patriot Day and the approaching anniversary of the deadly 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, all red meat to far-right extremists. Conservatives simply asserted what was obvious — to them, anyway — given the past decade’s headlines, the upheavals in the Muslim world and repeated attacks on American targets.

Next came indignation. The left accused the right of bigotry for rushing to blame Muslims before any facts were known. The right professed shock at the left’s politically correct denial of the obvious and decried its tarring of patriots and anti-tax protesters — that is, the Republican base.

First out of the box was the New York Post, which reported an hour after the explosions that Boston police were holding a Saudi suspect. Boston police immediately disavowed the report. It later emerged that a Saudi national had been questioned but wasn’t a suspect. By then, however, the Post version had gone viral: More than 3,000 Facebook posts, and 10,000 tweets. Some right-wing websites were hinting at a police “cover-up.”

Some of the indignation reached almost comical proportions. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Monday evening listed past terrorism cases that had been cracked by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, went on to lament that the bureau hasn’t had a director for six years because of Senate obstruction, hinting that this might hamper the Boston investigation — and then promptly said she didn’t want to politicize the crisis.

Bill O’Reilly attacked Obama for calling the attack a “tragedy” rather than “terrorism” at his Monday press conference, even though investigators still weren’t sure what happened, much less how to classify it. By Tuesday morning, commentators from Obama on down were calling it “terrorism.” Also, a “tragedy.”

Amid the fireworks came endless chatter about Americans coming together in crisis. In a way, we did: First responders and bystanders leapt forward in extraordinary acts of heroism, trauma surgeons performed miracles, Bostonians donated blood, ordinary Americans everywhere watched and prayed.

In the moment, that is, we came together and refused to be terrorized. It was afterward, as we grappled with what happened and why, that we came apart.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.