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Why the Boston bomber is not evil

In the immediate aftermath of the terrible events at the end of the Boston Marathon last night, like everyone else, I am filled with sadness.

Marathons are a joyful occasion and I’m looking forward to cheering on friends who are running in London next Sunday.


That someone would chose to do this to an event which brings 500,000 spectators out to watch over 20,000 runners, many raising money for charities, beggars belief.

Looking for news on Twitter, along with the genuine shock and good wishes to injured and families of the dead, two types of response worried me.

First, and most worryingly, was the speed with which people assumed that the attack had been work Islamic fundamentalists.

Of course, people like the EDL’s Tommy Robinson (or whatever his real name is) were quick to unleash their bile, hoping to hook shocked people into swallowing their mantra that all bad things are done by Muslims.

I’m pretty certain I remember him making similar early claims after the 2011 attack in Norway which later turned out to be the Anders Brievik, a white neo-Nazi with links to Robinson’s band of thugs.

Rumours that a young man ‘of Saudi origin’ was being treated as a ‘person of interest’, fuelled in many, the idea that this was another attack by ‘freedom hating Muslims’.

Fox News contributor Erik Rush tweeted about Muslims, “Yes, they’re evil. Let’s kill them all”.

Hopefully he will face charges and no one will decide to take some kind of misplaced revenge based on his words.

In the weeks following 911, attacks on ordinary Muslim families (not to mention Sikhs and anyone who looked ‘middle-eastern’) rocketed.

Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh, was shot dead at his Arizona gas station four days after the attacks and there were many other ‘revenge attacks’.


Mosques and Islamic buildings were vandalised, some were set alight.

Of course all of this played into the hands of preachers of hate as some young American Muslim men were taught just how fragile their welcome in the Land of the Free was.

Whoever turns out to have carried out this vile act should be brought to justice and face the full weight of the law. If the culprits turn out to be Muslims though, blaming Islam makes as much sense as blaming trench coat wearers for Columbine or war veterans for Oklahoma.

By the way, yesterday also saw at least 40 people killed by a bombing in Iraq but this hardly got a mention.

The second type of response that worried me was that many people understandably spoke about how ‘evil’ the perpetrators were.

I’ve always had a problem with labelling people as ‘evil’.

It feels like a lazy cop out, which actually lets those who commit evil acts off the hook.

Saying someone is evil gives them an excuse for their act.

The logic goes something like, “a normal human couldn’t do this therefore these people are intrinsically not normal, they are not like the rest of us, they are evil”.

The problem I have with this is saying these people are not normal means we don’t have to explore ourselves and the world we’ve created that in turn can create people who will carry out these acts.

Thatcher, Pol Pot, Hitler, Blair, Mugabe, Shipman, and many many others have all been dismissed as evil but somehow we as a society and a world need to be more introspective.

  • What was it about British society that enabled Margaret Thatcher to come to power and wreak her decade of destruction?
  • What was it about the former French colonial land of Cambodia that allowed the rise of the Khmer Rouge?
  • If there was better support for the young Harold Shipman, when, at 17, he witnessed his mother die of lung cancer, could he have been prevented from killing over 250 people in the same manner that she died?

This in no way excuses the harbingers of sorrow from what they have done.

People should be judged and, where possible, punished for any harm that they do to their fellow humans.

But we also need to try to understand what motived them to commit these acts and what environment allowed them to exist.

The idea of trying to empathise with people who commit evil acts is enough to raise the bile in all but the most righteous of people. But that is the only way we can ever hope to prevent other people being drawn to destruction and division.

It was only from understanding and dialogue that The Troubles in Northern Ireland which had blighted the lives of so many, were brought to an end, albeit a relatively fragile one.

I believe that all people are born inherently good.

Something in the lives of these people led them down a very different path from the rest of us.

As well as condemning the atrocities, we are doing the victims of these acts a disservice if we don’t do everything we can to stop others from suffering.

For me that means trying to understand the acts rather than lazily dismissing the perpetrators as evil.

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  1. Mark says:

    Well said. So much violence and corruption is systemic, and in the cases of an individual committing some atrocity, the reasons why that individual ended up so broken and dysfunctional are complex and poorly understood – and therefore likely to recur. When people reduce it down to someone being “evil”, we allow ourselves to be led away from genuine healing – not to mention the possibility of solutions.

  2. Giles says:

    Wise words: you warm my heart when much of what is said in the public domain leaves me chilled. Thank you.

  3. leepinkerton says:

    Well done Maurice. and such a quick turnaround. I’m respecting your grind!

  4. Penny Heymans says:

    Thank you! As Quakers often say – You speak my mind.

    • Thanks Penny!
      I was worried that people would misunderstand and that I’d get a lot of flack but the response has been really good. People have tweeted the link and I’ve met some really nice sound people.
      Thanks for taking the time to read and reply.

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