Endless opinion pieces about the Boston Marathon bombings have flooded the media following the incident and eventual arrest of a suspect and the death of another suspect.

US President Barack Obama was careful not to use the word “terror” or “terrorism” as he spoke at the White House after the deadly attack, although an administration official said that the attack was being treated as an act of terrorism.

As the first suspect was shot dead by the police, the second suspect — Dzokhar Tsarnaev — was captured alive and identified as one of the ethnic Chechen brothers who had lived in Dagestan, which abuts Chechnya in southern Russia. They had been in the US for about a decade and were believed to be living in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Apart from the coverage of the world media, an act of terrorism was never expected to happen on this special annual event and above all, in a society where both socio-economic wellbeing as well as security measures are relatively stable. This tragedy shatters the myth that “failed states pose a great danger to global security”, which has had substantial influence in directing American foreign policy for decades. The Boston attack was an example of the fact that acts of terrorism do not always happen within failed states, as previously evinced in the tragedy of Connecticut. So what went wrong in American society?

American society consist of multi ethnic people, yet it is a country that lately has felt overwhelmed to cope with the increasingly booming immigrants who come to the American mainland. Of course, the immigrants have come from different countries with different social backgrounds and some may have arrived from countries categorized as failed states.

In his book Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2004), Samuel P. Huntington shatters the notion that the country is, as is often repeated, “a nation of immigrants” bound together to the American creed as the core American identity. He further defines the American creed as embodying the “principle of liberty, equality, individualism, representative government and private property”.

Huntington argues that it was during the 1960s that American identity began to erode. This was the result of several factors, among them, the beginning of economic globalization and the rise of global sub-national identities, the easing of the Cold War and its end in 1989 that reduced the importance of national identity, attempts by candidates for political offices to win over groups of voters and the desire of subnational group leaders to enhance the status of their respective groups and their personal status within them.

Now, as the mixture of subnational identities from different backgrounds and social traditions across the globe are living together on the American mainland, obviously social frictions are always visible, either because of economic sentiment, different social traditions or norms that sooner or later would instantly alienate a particular community. The principle of liberty, equality, individualism, representative government and private property has resulted in the loss of communal solidarity and the ethnic minority either feels alienated or subordinated.

The feeling of “being alienated”, being “the other” brings out the solidarity of “the other”, as they have the same feeling and form an exclusive community. Often this community goes beyond the ordinary community and later on could create an extreme mindset, which may stimulate radical action. Living in an environment that highly respects human rights, particularly freedom of the individual and freedom of expression, indirectly gives rise to community organizations that actually emerge from the alienation of identity.

In one interesting tweet of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, from his Twitter @J tsar, he comments about the role of minorities in the United States. “There are people that know the truth but stay silent & there are people that speak the truth but we don’t hear them cuz they’re the minority.”

What we learn from this tragedy is that Indonesia, with 240 million people and 34 provinces with various tribes and ethnicities, is potentially in an identity crisis; especially because our slogans such as “Unity in Diversity” have increasingly been forgotten as they are regarded as a legacy of the authoritarian New Order regime. Some cases, like the violence against the Ahmadis in Cikeusik and the two attacks on Shiites in Sampang are only a few manifestations of alienation of identity occurring in our homeland.

Of course, we Indonesians hope that what happened in Boston will not occur in our country, but with the same potential for identity crisis, we need to take a lesson. The Boston bombings should inspire policymakers, security apparatus and social activists to map out regions prone to horizontal conflicts and take measures to prevent escalation of the rifts into acts of terrorism.

The writer obtained her post graduate degree from the department of politics and international relations at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, lectures at Mathali’ul Falah Islamic Institute in Pati, Central Java.