After Boston: Why London’s marathon must still go ahead

John Morrison
BY THE time you read this, you will likely have significantly more information about the attacks on the Boston marathon than I do now. Twenty-four hours after the initial blasts, which have killed three and injured more than 150, we still have no claim of responsibility, obvious suspect or motive.

Some have been frustrated by this. They want someone to blame for an attack on the people of a city, and a nation, they call home or hold dear. As in the aftermath of any act of terrorism, they want to know why anybody would attack them in this way.

This is a natural, human reaction. But the White House, the police and the majority of the US and international media have learned from the mistakes of the past. In the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Madrid train bombings, the then Spanish Prime Minister Jose-Maria Aznar pointed an accusatory finger at the Basque separatist group Eta. The knee-jerk reaction, for many, to the 2011 Norwegian attacks by Anders Behring Breivik was to blame Al-Qaeda or Al-Qaeda inspired operatives. We know now that these allegations were significantly wide of the mark.

In the aftermath of tragedy, such speculation is more dangerous than relative silence. It can have significant and unnecessary social and political ramifications, which can be difficult to fix. The immediate reaction in Boston has been both measured and controlled. Police representatives and politicians were reticent to refer to “terrorism”, “terror” or even that it was an “attack’”until they were certain.

Respected commentators have largely refrained from speculating on who may have been responsible but have shown the facts and, from that, listed possible motives. There has been a repetition that, as of yet, it is too early to tell. While this may not provide a figure to direct anger at, it should provide some comfort for the victims and the wider targets of this attack. Those leading the investigation, and acting as the representatives of the city and nation, are not being led by speculation or pre-conceived ideas, but are carefully analysing the facts.

In light of this attack the obvious question for London is how should we react? Some argue we should postpone or cancel our own imminent marathon, taking place this weekend. This is understandable in a city which can empathise more than most with the victims of terrorism.

But without any clear threat to London, I do not believe that this is necessarily the right one. It would be sending out the wrong message – that an attack of this nature can succeed in disrupting our everyday lives. Instead, the best way we can commemorate the victims is to allow our athletes to compete in and to complete the race.

For those of us planning to cheer on the competitors, we must respect the security measures in place. As the past year has emphasised, London has a police force with a proven capability in dealing with high-profile sporting events. But their job often succeeds due to our ongoing vigilance and understanding, and this weekend we must continue to respect that.

Dr John Morrison is senior lecturer in criminology and criminal justice at the University of East London.