Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Rolling Stone, a Terrorist and What No One Is Paying Attention To

I promised myself earlier this morning that I wasn't going to write about this, but by now you all know how well those kinds of promises tend to pan out. As the day wore on and more and more calls to boycott Rolling Stone appeared in my Facebook feed, I knew this was coming.

Before any of you start screaming at me, I ask that you read what I am about to write...since it appears that most of the people the most angry about the magazine clearly didn't actually read the article.

In case you haven't been online or near a television today, Rolling Stone magazine published a cover story today about Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, also known as the Boston bombing suspect.

If you haven't read the article, I urge you to go read it (when you're done here of course) before you jump to conclusions about what it says just based on the image on the front cover.

Incidentally, I do not like that they chose this image, but I understand why they did. On first glance, it glamorizes the suspect, which is unacceptable particularly if the article never gets read. It sure gets your attention, though, which is what it was intended to do.

Reading the article instead of dismissing it would go a long way to explaining why they put his picture on the cover in the first place.

What often gets lost in the chatter about the bombing, about the suspect, about the police presence that resulted from the chase and hunt for him is hugely important: the motive. From the beginning of the investigation, from the moment he could speak, he has been consistent in what the reason was.

Instead of just dismissing whatever his reasons are and condemning him as a terrorist, maybe we should listen.

The bombings in Boston were a response the the US drone strikes around the world, supposedly aimed at members of al-Qaida, that have killed well over 4,000 people, many of which are innocent civilians, women and children. Even more people have been injured and maimed by these bombs.

What people here in the US don't seem to comprehend is that in the eyes of many others around the world, particularly the Muslim world, we are now viewed as terrorists.

And they are right.

We justify the drone strikes because they cost us less in resources and American lives, and are seemingly tolerant (or unaware) of the reality of what our military is actually doing.

His brother, Tamerlan, far more radicalized than Dzohkhar was, roped him into the plan. I do not say this to diminish his reponsibility, nor does the article that accompanied the photograph, but to explain why we should all be worried about it. Let me be clear here. I do not absolve him of fault in any way.

The reason that picture is on the cover is that he could be any kid in the US, any college student that participated in sports activities, got good grades and smoked pot when he was at parties.

Dzohkhar was an American teenager. He was handsome, as evidenced by the picture taken before the bombings. He was funny. He fit in. He had friends. He joined clubs. He played sports.

No one suspected him of ever being involved in something this atrocious.

None of his friends believed he could have been associated with such horrific violence.

There was almost nothing in his past to indicate he was a threat.

He wasn't on a single watch list, even though his older brother was.

This is why this picture is important, because Dzohkhar could be anyone, and you wouldn't even know until it was too late.

The article, had anyone actually read it, contained all kinds of background on his life, his friends, his interests, his academic past. He was not radicalized, in fact most people who knew him well have said that he rarely mentioned religion in any context.

What should come out of this article, what will come out of this article if you can get past the anger over a picture, is the very real threat that kids like him pose to our safety. It is how the threat is not far away and distant, it's not even radicalized. The danger is in how easily young people can be manipulated, swayed to the extremes, how quickly they can go from a kid at a party to a terrorist. It is how many other young men are out there with older brothers and cousins and friends like Tamerlan, who are justifiably angry that our nation has declared war on their people abroad.

We can't sit here in the confines of our boundaries and declare that we can haphazardly drop bombs on people all over the world and believe for even one second that we aren't making enemies every single time we do it.

Some of those enemies aren't over there.

Some of them are here.

They are angry.

And they have every right to be.

This is what is important. The motive.

It is why we must fundamentally change the way we think here. Why we absolutely must understand that our actions, even and especially the remote guided ones, are not without consequence. We are making enemies all over the world and providing them with reasons to hate us.

We are throwing gasoline on the fire, then wondering why it blows up in our faces.

Peace will never come in the form of a bomb.

Read the article before you condemn it, understand why that picture is on the cover, and realize why it's so important.



  1. I read the article before I saw the picture. The reporting by Janet Reitman is outstanding. There are a lot of repetitive quotes from the friends and no real answer as to how he was radicalized.

    But my problem with the picture is that it is Rolling Stone and their imagery is what they're known for.

    To me it mythologizes the Bomber like Che Guervara (another murderer). I think it's intentionally provocative. But the reporting is good. But I expect Boston stores to not carry it.

  2. I read the article, and and couple of others stating why the magazine chose this picture. To show us that terrorists can look like the "boy next next door". I almost changed my feeling about the cover .... ALMOST. Then, I read a tweet from an editor (senior, I believe.), saying something to the effect of "maybe we should've have a di*k in his mouth". To me, it just doesn't feel like the outrage over the cover is being taken seriously.

    1. Totally agree that tweet did nothing for the legitimacy of the article.

  3. Mixed feelings. You make a valid point.

    -The Insomniacs Dream

  4. Well said.

    The eyes of the world are always on the USA. And we do not always approve.

  5. Glad you decided to write this. Too often we get caught up in our initial reactions before assessing the whole situation. While I can completely understand where the outrage is coming from, I also get the story that Rolling Stones is trying to tell here. As you said, he could be anyone. I think all too often, it is easy for us to categorize threats like this as monsters. Bombers, murderers, etc. We don't care about their back story. It's almost like we forget they are still human. Someone's kid, brother, etc. and something contributed to making them this way. That's the bigger picture.

    On a side note, it is sad that RS can't take the criticism seriously and meet it with substantiated rebuttals, as opposed to the tweet from yesterday. They discredit the intent of the article with an action like that.

  6. Okay, so...I read your post. Then I read the RS article. Then I decided to research this incident and Jahar Tsarnaev on the interwebs. What I learned from reading and researching shocked me to the core; and I am not easily shocked. I won't get into it here, but I will say that people are idiots and will believe whatever the media says to them.

    RS is brave for running this article. I only wish they had the balls to truly dig deeper into the details and less covered facts surrounding the bombings, but I know that would just make it look like they were in the "Jahar is innocent" crowd. And that would not sit well with the general public.

    It's bad enough that RS is being criticized so harshly for the article in the first place, when all is does is talk about Jahar and his life and family and it tries to come up with an explanation for "WHY?" That's what most people want to know- Why? But the "Why" question they're asking isn't the right one, imo.

    Instead of asking "Why did they do this? Why did HE do this?" They should be asking themselves "Why do I believe what the media tells me?"

    Okay. I need to stop now, before I get myself into trouble with my train of thought.
    Excellent post, as usual, Kelly. Thank you for being brave enough to write about this from this perspective. There are too many sheeple out there reacting so extremely to the RS article's simply having been published, without even taking the time to read it.
    You read it and had an opinion that was contrary to the general public, and you wrote about it. More writers should do that. Bravo. xoxo

  7. Kelly, your analysis is spot on.

    The cynic in me knows Rolling Stone knew just what they were doing when they chose that photo: this will get us publicity. Did they glamorize him? Maybe--they certainly helped--but this country is already knee deep in the glamorizing violence muck and social media took the lead on glamorizing this particular case. Rolling Stone just followed that lead. Of course they backed it up with a great piece which I hope more people will read.

    Did you see the article I posted about “media-induced PTSD”. I believe you'd have some interesting thoughts about it.


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