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The internet is a digital river that carries sources of wisdom and hate along the same current

Written by New York Times | Published: April 30, 2013 12:48 am

The internet is a digital river that carries sources of wisdom and hate along the same current
Thomas L. Friedman

As police investigators peel away the layers of the Boston Marathon bombing,there are two aspects of this unfolding story to which I want to react: the mindset of the alleged bombers and the role of the internet in shaping it. Important news about both was contained in a single Washington Post article on Tuesday. “The 19-year-old suspect in the Boston Marathon bombings has told interrogators that the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan motivated him and his brother to carry out the attack,according to US officials familiar with the interviews,” the Post reported. The officials said,“Dzhokhar and his older brother,Tamerlan Tsarnaev… do not appear to have been directed by a foreign terrorist organisation. Rather,the officials said,the evidence so far suggests they were ‘self-radicalised’ through internet sites and US actions in the Muslim world. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has specifically cited the US war in Iraq,which ended in December 2011 with the removal of the last American forces,and the war in Afghanistan.”

This is a popular meme among radical Muslim groups,and,to be sure,some Muslim youths were deeply angered by the US interventions in the Middle East. The brothers Tsarnaev may have been among them. But what in god’s name does that have to do with planting a bomb at the Boston Marathon and blowing up innocent people? It is amazing to me how we’ve come to accept this non sequitur and how easily we’ve allowed radical Musl-im groups and their apologists to get away with it.

A simple question: If you were upset with US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,why didn’t you go out and build a school in Afghanistan to strengthen that community? Dzhokhar claims the Tsarnaev brothers were so upset by something America did in a third country that they just had to go to Boylston Street and blow up people who had nothing to do with it,and too often we just nod our heads rather than asking: What kind of sick madness is this?

It’s a double non sequitur when it comes from Muslim youths who lived and studied in America,where,if you’re upset about something,you have many ways to express your opposition and have an impact — from organising demonstrations to publishing articles to running for office.

As for the role that websites apparently played in the “self-radicalisation” of the two Chechen brothers,it is yet another reminder that the internet is a digital river that carries incredible sources of wisdom and hate along the same current. It’s all there together. And our kids and citizens usually interact with this flow nakedly,with no supervision. So more people are more directly exposed to more raw information and opinion every day from everywhere. As such,it is more important than ever that we build the internal software,the internal filters,into every citizen to sift out fact from fiction in this electronic torrent,which offers so much information that has never been touched by an editor,a censor or a libel lawyer. And that’s why the faster,more accessible and ultra-modern the internet becomes,the more all the old-fashioned stuff matters: good judgement,respect for others who are different and basic values of right and wrong. Those you can’t download. They have to be uploaded,the old-fashioned way,by parents around the dinner table,by caring but demanding teachers at school and by responsible spiritual leaders in a church,synagogue,temple or mosque. Somewhere,somehow,that did not happen,or stopped happening,with the brothers Tsarnaev.

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