The Boston question

How could terror breed in the heart of a city so inclusive?

Just as Delhi and Bangalore are my Indian homes, Boston is my American home. I have lived here for 16-17 years. Norfolk Street, where the Boston bombers lived, is only a couple of miles away from my apartment. MIT, where the Tsarnaev brothers killed a policeman, is my alma mater. Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, where the younger Tsarnaev brother studied, is across the street from Harvard University's Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs, where I started my American career as a junior professor. Boylston Street, where the bombs went off at the marathon finish line, and the nearby Copley Square are the commercial heart of Boston. I have friends in Watertown, where the younger Tsarnaev hid in a boat before being captured by the police. Such intimate associations generate sadness about the events last week, but they also allow me to formulate some puzzles and provide proximate, if not conclusive, answers.

If Washington is the political capital of the US, New York the financial capital and Los Angeles the entertainment capital, Boston is America's intellectual capital. Universities, colleges and labs liberally dot the landscape. Also, Boston's history is special. The American revolution against the British commenced here; the Boston marathon, so violently disrupted on April 15, is on Patriot's Day.

Cambridge, part of Boston, perhaps has more foreigners per capita than any other town in the English-speaking world. Only New York and greater San Francisco, comprising Berkeley and Stanford, could compete in the US, and London abroad. The Tsarnaev brothers, especially the older sibling, felt lost and discovered destructive anger, in what is one of the most international and inclusive towns of the US. Here is what Cambridge superintendent of schools Jeffrey Young says: "We [Cambridge] are an inclusive community, guided by our shared values... That may be one reason it is so hard to understand how this could happen in a place like Cambridge."

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