Salon.com is reporting that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, suspected in the Boston Marathon bombing, has confessed from his hospital bed to U.S. interrogators that he and his brother planted the bombs to protest the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This might make a good time to discuss 'blow back' and what it is and is not.
Put bluntly, the Brothers Tsarnaev's bombing attack is not 'blow back'. The attack may indeed be retaliation. But "blow back" has come to mean a particular type of reaction to U.S. foreign policy. Specifically, according to writers like Chalmers Johnson, blow back occurs when the American people are largely kept in the dark about the consequences of America's foreign policy until the inevitable and eminently predictable blow is struck against her. The American people are thus mystified at this display of seeming 'motiveless malignity.'
Since it can be safely assumed that the American people were largely aware of the consequences of the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan -- whether they disagree or not with those consequences -- the Marathon Bombing hardly constitutes blow back.
Contrast Tsarnaev's alleged motive with Osama bin Laden's fatwa, issued prior to 9-11, that authorized the attack upon the U.S. In his fatwa, bin Laden mentions several grievances, two of which strike me as ones largely hidden from the American public: the preventable deaths of 500,000 Iraqi children during the decade of the 90s as a result of U.N. sanctions on so-called dual use items (sanctions maintained largely at the insistence of the U.S.) and the continued presence and basing of U.S. troops on Saudi Arabian soil after the end of the First Gulf War (aka "Operation Desert Shield\Storm"). In each of these cases, the American public was largely unaware of the effects its foreign policy was having upon the people of the Middle East. Thus, when 9-11 occurred, it could rightly be seen as an instance of 'blow back,' given that Al Qaeda's response seemed to lack any motivation, so much so as to allow Bush to claim ludicrously that AQ hated us 'for our freedoms.'
While I have been saying, since 2001, that attacks like the Marathon Bomber were inevitable and would come when the people of the Middle East and Central Asia were ready to strike and not according to our timetable, I have also never felt that attacks like the Marathon Bomber constitute 'blow back.' In the case of the Marathon Bomber, the motives were already known or should have been known.
No American can therefore say that he or she could not have seen this coming. Indeed, a more pointed question is why it did not come sooner. Nor can any American any longer hide from the probability that attacks like these will continue as long as we contiinue our murderous and criminal policies in the Middle East.
I found the story and images of the 8-year-old victim, Martin Richard, particularly poingant. In one such photo, Richard is seen holding a sign that says "No more hurting people . . . Peace." Surely one so young possessed of such wisdom should be inoculated from the murderous consequences of the Bush Junta and its successor regimes. Indeed, I had flattered myself that my 8 years of bi- and thrice-weekly vigiling in the streets of Los Angeles had similarly inoculated my wife (maker of my signs) and me. Alas, I see now that such is fond delusion. And, if I'm being honest with myself, it is fond delusion. For where is the outrage for the deaths of the 12 Afghan children killed in a NATO airstrike in Afghanistan just 9 days before the Marathon bombing? There is no outrage, just a numbed and deafening silence. Those 12 Afghan children were just as innocent as Richard, lives as full of promise as his. And those 12 Afghan children are suddenly dead, just as Richard is. Perhaps Richard would have been the next Einstein, perhaps one of those Afghan chidlren would have been the next Salk. We shall never know.
But I do know that further attacks on us will come until the foreign policy of the United States undergoes a radical change and until the perpetrators of all the death, torture and destruction have been held fully to account. Until both conditions are satisifed, we will not be experiencing blow back. But we will be experiencing retaliation. There is a difference.