Before the blood was even cleaned from the Boston sidewalks, a number of opinion pieces and cartoons published in Western media suggested that those killed or maimed in the blasts were suitable victims – the result of an America that has refused to acknowledge the consequences of its actions.
After Bin Laden's death, America was condemned. In the wake of the Boston bombings, America is now once again condemned. Whether in the pursuit of justice or as the victim of terror, the United States is often portrayed as the villain. Why have some commentators expressed feelings of schadenfreude instead of solidarity? Why must the victims of the Boston bombing be blamed for being murdered by America's enemies?
On April 17th, Le Monde's front page included the cartoon below, which mocks the victims of the bombing and lays the blame for those murders on a violent American society.
In Germany, a satirical publication Titanic mocked, with little explanation, America's supposed failure to understand the consequences of its foreign policy.
In Foreign Policy Journal, Richard Falk, the UN's "Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories," penned an article in which he claimed, "The American global domination project is bound to generate all kinds of resistance in the post-colonial world. In some respects, the United States has been fortunate not to experience worse blowbacks … As long as Tel Aviv has the compliant ear of the American political establishment, those who wish for peace and justice in the world should not rest easy."
In the UK, the Socialist Workers Party offered its thoughts "to the Arabs, Muslims and South Asians who would inevitably be blamed for this nightmare."
Writing in the Guardian, columnist Glenn Greenwald commented that, "it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid."
Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, told Iranian state news that: "Very often, people get incredibly angry about injustices that they see. They would have been reading about the torture at Guantanamo Bay, at Baghram airbase … People get angry — they lash out. … this fuels the anger of the young men, who — as we saw in Boston — went out, and, out of anger and demand for revenge, claimed lives in the West."
Two years ago, in May 2011, many Europeans were also unhappy. They considered the killing of Bin Laden an unjust and illiberal act – typical of a bullying, arrogant America.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, claimed the death of the Al Qaeda leader left him with "an uncomfortable feeling." Ken Livingstone said that the killing "appalled" him.
European commentators condemned the American response to Bin Laden's death. The French newspaper Libération stated that the celebrations were an example of the "toxic rhetoric" employed in the war against terror, and that the jubilant crowds in New York in Washington were "unprecedented in a democracy." L'Express stated that those celebrating were the same as the "turbaned barbarians who danced the night of September 11th. It is to tell them the ghastly competition continues between them and us."
Gary Younge, writing in the Guardian, commented:
"Americans have a right to grieve and remember those who died on 9/11. But they have no monopoly on memory, grief or anger. Hundreds and thousands of innocent Afghanis, Iraqis and Pakistanis have been murdered as a result of America's response to 9/11.
"If "they" killed Bin Laden in Abbottabad then "they" also bombed a large number of wedding parties in Afghanistan, "they" murdered 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha and "they" gang-raped a 14-year-old before murdering her, her six-year-old sister and their parents near Mahmudiyah. If "they" don't want to be associated with the atrocities then "they" need to find more to celebrate than an assassination. Vengeance is, in no small part, what got us here. It won't get us out."
Those commentators who ascribe victimhood to the perpetrators of terror instead of its casualties share an essential idea with those responsible for the Boston bombings. Although one faction justifies its view with blood and the other with ink, their message is the same: that terrorism can be justified.
If there is one consistent response that should unite people across the Western world, it is that those who commit acts of terrorism or support terrorist groups are alone responsible for the murderous result. By painting such atrocities as a question of moral ambiguity, rather than as an outrage to be condemned and as a threat to be fought, these opinion writers and cartoonists only embolden terror and weaken the West's ability to defend its freedoms.