A year later

Another week off to celebrate Thanksgiving, another bombing:

Vladimir I. Yakunin, president of Russian Railways, said: “The basic version that is being investigated by the lead investigators is that it was an unknown device, by unknown persons. Simply put, a terrorist act.”

Official Yakunin isn’t the only one using the word “terrorism”; the Times headline throws out the the same accusation: “Russian Train Wreck Tied to Terrorist Bomb.”

I don’t know anything about Russia. I know less still about Chechnya. So I can’t say this was or was not terrorism. But from the evidence the article provides, neither can the Times. The article makes reference to recent Russian terrorist attacks, and explains this is likely another such attack:

Russia suffered a wave of attacks in the early part of the decade as Muslim separatists from Chechnya struck trains and public places in Moscow and elsewhere, but there have been no such deadly assaults in recent years.

However, another Nevsky Express train was derailed in 2007 by an explosion, wounding more than two dozen people. While two people were later arrested, their motive remains unclear.

For Russians, the attack on Friday night may be reminiscent of terrorist acts that stirred unease across the country earlier in the decade, when Muslim separatists from Chechnya made passenger trains, subways and other public places targets.

A 2003 suicide bombing attack on a commuter train near Chechnya killed 44. At least 12 people were wounded in 2005 when a bomb derailed a train headed from Chechnya to Moscow. And in 2002, more than 100 hostages died in a rescue attempt after Chechen terrorists seized a theater in the heart of Moscow.

But nowhere else do the writers provide any evidence–besides officials’ claims–that this most recent bombing was an act of terrorism. It looks like past terrorist attacks (if we are to call the violent acts of separatist groups terrorism), but how do we know this is terrorism, loaded with all the meaning of that word? Is resemblance to past events enough to explain what this event was and why it happened? Why does the Times tell us an act of terrorism has occurred without giving us any evidence that it is such?

Once upon a time, criminal acts were called crimes. Now, it seems any large crime is quickly and easily labeled terrorism. Is this now to be taken as truth around the world? Whether in Moscow, Madrid, Miami, Mumbia, or Manila, will we now jump to call any bombing terrorism before knowing who planned the attack or why it was committed? Will we remain this way forever?

A year ago today, I wrote of my sadness seeing the aftermath of the Mumbai bombings:

My god. From every act of violence, from every case of abuse, from every painful intrusion into the formerly peaceful lives of good citizens, how much collateral damage must there be? And how many ways can it express itself?

For all that I saw terrorism do to my city, I did not see people fear the next day at work, the next night in bed. No one started sleeping on guns. There were a thousand other fears, but not this one. And now in Mumbai, there is new fear in each citizen. I don’t know all the ways it will show itself — what I’ve read and reprinted is just one way — but it will hurt. And it hurts me to watch.

Once more, people have been attacked, have been killed. I hope–I can only hope–that they and we, all of us, will not live in fear. That need not be the way we live; that is no way to live. We are not necessarily living in an age of terrorism, even if terrorism happens in this age.

A couple days ago I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family and dear friends. Eighteen people in all ate at my apartment, enjoying a meal my family (mostly my mom) prepared. Family members have been here since. There is great good, and I have felt it powerfully this week. If only that could be all we were struck by. I am sorry to make yet another Thanksgiving-time post about such pain. I hope not to do so next year.

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