New Yorkers are not known for collectively possessing a stiff upper lip. Complaining about life’s indignities tends to be a default position. But there is a notable exception, and it was amply displayed on Monday after an explosion in a busy transit corridor at Times Square. At such moments New York embodies the classic British slogan of World War II vintage: Keep calm and carry on.
The city barely blinked after the morning rush-hour blast, which officials described as a failed attempt at terrorism by an immigrant from Bangladesh who had strapped a pipe bomb to his body. He ended up wounding himself seriously and inflicting minor injuries on three others. No doubt, the communal reaction would have been more frantic had the toll been higher. But the normal rhythms of the city paused only briefly. New Yorkers have become quite adept at keeping their composure.
Partly that’s because they have no other choice. They know their city is destined to be in the cross hairs of assorted madmen responding to religious and political commands or simply to the demons rattling in their heads. It has long been thus.
A century ago, New York was a favored target for self-described anarchists. In 1920, a bomb planted in a horse-drawn wagon exploded outside the J. P. Morgan bank on Wall Street, killing more than 30 people. Back then, it was America’s most devastating act of terrorism. New York in the 1970s endured a series of deadly attacks by Croatian, Puerto Rican and anti-Castro Cuban nationalists. Now the concern is terrorism perpetrated primarily by Islamist radicals, like the horror on Halloween when an Uzbek immigrant drove a pickup truck along a bike path in Lower Manhattan, killing eight people and injuring 12 others.
In the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the New York Police Department has worked hard to keep the city safe. But it can’t head off every attack, especially one like Monday’s, committed apparently by a lone wolf possibly inspired by the Islamic State. Nor is President Trump’s ban on travelers from eight countries, six of them predominantly Muslim, any help. None of the men accused of the most recent assaults in New York and elsewhere in the United States came from those countries. The far greater threat comes from disaffected homegrown terrorists with ready access to handguns and rifles.
Much of the demonizing of immigrants by Washington these days rings hollow. New arrivals have in the main been well absorbed into the larger society. That reality has eluded an administration led by a man who may be from New York but is not of New York in either temperament or values, whether in regard to immigrants or to crime in general.