From Boston Marathon, to an Arab Marathon

From Boston Marathon, to an Arab Marathon

The full biographies of the two Tsarnaev brothers who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing are still coming into light. The cause of Chechen independence might be their motivation due to their Russian Caucasus background and the close proximity of their birthplace to Chechnya. Rumors about their al-Qaeda affiliation are, however, also abundant. Even though such a connection is not apparent yet, the jihadist network was declared widely as the perpetrator even before the first image of the incident was onscreen. The immediate incarnation of the scenes of September 11, 2001, was inevitable.

Al-Qaeda came to the front last week as well when al Nusra Front, the military backbone of the Syrian opposition, openly swore its loyalty to al-Qaeda. The statement also indicated that the Syrian group would merge with al-Qaeda in Iraq from which al Nusra has been receiving personnel and training.

Following the fall of the former Egyptian President Hosni Mobarak, political scientist Gilles Kepel argued that the Arab nations who had been forced to choose between “either Bin Laden or Ben Ali” were now rising up for “neither Bin Laden nor Ben Ali”. The era of both the Arab autocrats and of al-Qaeda was over. The masses on the streets were revolting against both the dictators and radical Islam. Arabs were now rejecting the understanding of “bon pour l’orient” (“not good for us but good enough for the East”) and leading off their modernization process.

This wind of change was expected to destroy the existing assumptions and enable the Western world to develop a healthier relationship with Islam. The “clash of civilizations” thesis of Samuel Huntington according to which different civilizations would clash, the most violent one to be between the Western and Islamic civilizations, was also cut down. Arabs, who belonged to the “Islamic Civilization,” were now demanding the very same democratic values of the “Western Civilization.”

However, life developed toward a different direction. What started as people-centered revolutionary uprisings remains a work in progress and raises many question marks for the short- and medium-term. Even though the revolts reawakened Arabs, they nevertheless failed to provide more freedom, democracy and rule of law. The anachronistic and dysfunctional state structures are still there. On top of that, the longstanding sectarian divide has resurfaced and radical groups are getting more and more engaged. No need to mention the increasingly devastating, violent, chaotic and unstable situation in Syria. And al-Qaeda is still on stage.

During the Al Jazeera Forum in March 2011 when Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was asked, “has the future arrived?” referring to the Arab uprisings, he replied, “yes, the future has arrived, but it has been delayed in this area.” The Arab world is tired of waiting for the future and wants to talk in the present tense. However both the current regional crisis and the reactions after the Boston bombing indicate that Arabs will speak in the future tense for a while longer.