I have many major capitals in the world without making any psychological or spiritual connections with the cities or their people, regardless of whether my visit is long or short.
But cities that you live in, where you know its roads and have mixed with its people for a long time, are something else. You either love them and long for them or you hate them and end up being in their company only if you have to.
The city of Boston is the first type. I have visited and lived in it regularly since 2003. Before living there, I visited it during the cold winter, but then it was merely a city that has prominent universities.
After 2003, I visited it regularly for two months to research at Harvard University in the Belfer Center of the Kennedy School of Government's research or I visited it for several months to lecture and carry out research. You cannot be in any of Boston's universities without being close to at least other ten prominent universities and research institutions, and so you are able to work with and learn from all of them.
Terrorism is no longer due to religious or nationalist extremism but has become one based on the rejection of law and orderAbdel Monem Said
But the issue is not all about education and knowledge. It is rather about a life that you get to know when you reside in the heart of Cambridge and when you walk in Harvard or sit and listen to the most vibrant of music wherever you go. It is not that different if you are at MIT which is few meters away from Charles River. If you cross it to Boston, like I have hundreds of times, you’ll feel you’re at the heart of the world. The heavy retail and sports presence, the sea and the history.
In Boston, you will find the beginning of the story of the American states. Here is where the famous tea party was held, and here is where the first wars of independence was fought. It is also here where George Washington walked and fought launching the American journey which achieved what we know today. And here is where Bill Clinton lived and Barack Obama learnt. But perhaps the most important sophisticated aspect I have known during these years is the average Bostonian, who I think is the most important of its landmarks. They are always smiling, vibrant and helpful at all times. If they had the time, they would not mind taking you wherever you want.
The terror attack which has painfully befallen upon Boston is not the topic of this article. The topic is the terrorism that has also befallen upon us and which is currently heavily present in our Arab and Islamic region. This time the reason for terrorism is different. Perhaps it happened there because is a part of one of the most liberal American states and thus there are always extremists who do not mind killing hundreds of people using a timed bomb during a sports event like the Boston Marathon.
Or perhaps there are extremists who do not mind killing people for no reason whatsoever like what happened at the heart of MIT University. When you know the places where terrorism or gunfire happened, and when you have actually lived there, the question is what if you have been there when these incidents occurred? This definitely crosses our minds and the issue becomes personal on one level. But the other general level remains to be the most important as madness appears to have sprung across the entire world. And can we possibly use a word other than madness to describe some groups' insistence to commit random murders of other groups and ruin their lives by either carrying out criminal acts.
Rejecting the state
During a coincidence and a periodical meeting with my dear friend, the author, Salah Montaser, he mentioned to me the books he is currently reading. He mentioned Eric Hobsbawm's book The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914-1991. The book was published in 1994. The writer had before it written a trilogy called the Age of the Revolution 1789-1914. The author's belief was that the 20th century has given birth to extremism through the communism, nationalism and capitalism of states in addition to other ideologies that give birth to extremists who kill for no reason or leave behind living people with severed limbs or limited capabilities.
We are still living through the era of extremism. Or extremism has entered a new phase where the state's entity is under threats and where terrorism is no longer due to religious or nationalist extremism but has become one based on the rejection of law and order; the rejection of the state - that social entity which was the greatest of mankind's products throughout history.
What was understood before as terrorism against the world order and the parties in power in it later became terrorism against the state and society. When we studied political philosophy, we thought that different schools have joined mankind's historical excavations. The brain which took humans to the moon and to Mars has also discovered genes and the atom.
Such competencies cannot be worked with unless under the shadow of state institutions and businesses, under rules and regulations and the means to spread education and knowledge. What occurred to man within the "era of extremism" in the 20th century has moved on to the 21st century. It has not only moved with the same degree of extremism but ravaging life itself has been added. And the means towards this is that everything that humans have invented is used as a tool to kill. And thus, the Boston bomb device was nothing more than a pressure cooker.
We have lived this battle before in its first dimensions. The worst of its revelations were in Arab capitals and cities. Sometimes, features of it appear in Cairo, and hearts have always wept. This time, it occurred in Boston. And the feelings toward those in Boston are the same exact feelings towards anyone else in any other place.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on April 24, 2013.
Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.