I dislike Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s, that dislike contingent on his guilt yet to be proven (but very likely, it seems). His picture on the cover of Rolling Stone makes a point that struck me during the mayhem in Boston, and it is a good point. Those who reacted to this photograph negatively are seeing this situation in the first order, missing the point, missing the nuance. They are operating at the bodice-ripping romance novel level of thinking, not even the semi-complex Hercule Poirot level, of thinking. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts cop who released the “real” pictures of Tsarnaev violated the rules of his job, and he’ll presumably take some heat for that (though I couldn’t possibly care less about that) but more importantly he acted poorly and in a way that sets us back, as a country, in our thinking about terrorism.
Consider Adolf Hitler. I went looking on Google Images for a picture of Adolf Hitler to see if I could find a picture in which he didn’t look like the absolute monster that he was. There were a few photos of him chatting with his fellow monsters, uniformed, being Nazis, but they weren’t very good photos. I found a picture of him as a toddler and a picture of him wearing bunny ears (which I assume is a fake, but do correct me if I’m wrong because that would be interesting). But only the toddler picture counts. Yes, folks, any toddler could ultimately become Adolf Hitler (probably by never growing out of the Terrible Twos, but that’s another story.) And yes, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev could be anybody.
My daughter, just a bit younger than the Tsarnaev brothers, headed off to Boston one day and was actually in the air not yet landed at Logan when the bombs went off at the marathon. For the entire day, I kept in touch with her via text messaging. She and her mom made it to their hotel in South Boston after hackney services were restored, though they had to spend a fair amount of time in the airport first. Over the next couple of days, the drama we all know about unfolded.
Somewhere during this time, Julia noted that had she been in the same high school with the Tsarnaev’s, she’d probably be their friends. This is not because she hangs around with terrorists. Rather, she has a long history, since early childhood, of association with the part of the world they come from, having lived in west/central Asia and gone to school there. Also, she lived in a country that, like Tsarnaev’s native land, was oppressed by the Soviets and since by the Russians. There would be many connections between them and they’d probably attend each other’s graduation parties. When I heard about the Rolling Stone cover, I thought of that, and thought it important to make the point that the Tsarnaevs are American Terrorists and emerged from our culture just as much as form somewhere else (though obviously it is more complicated than that).
We live in a culture where the visual trope rules. If a famous beauty is found by photographers with tussled hair, cellulite, or some food spilled on her shirt, that’s news. If a teabagger wants to depict Obama as a bad guy, he darkens the image because that racist trick works on a lot of people. They say (though I don’t assume it to be true) that Kennedy beat Nixon because Nixon had a bad five o’clock shadow. And so on. Massachusetts Trooper Sgt. Sean Murphy saw a picture of a bad guy that didn’t make him look like a bad guy and felt the need to risk his own career and violate the rules of his job, and probably violate his profession’s ethics, in order to “correct” that so the rest of us could go on hating Tsarnaev properly. He was wrong to do that. Nobody decided that it was OK to blow up people at the Boston Marathon because Tsarnaev looks like a hipster when he’s not all shot up lying in a boat in Watertown.
Also, this: If we insist that how you look has to match what you do, what you’ve done, what you might do, the kind of person you are, then we are fully subscribing to the worst in human nature. Think about it. If you are a woman and you wear certain cloths … If you have a certain color skin … If you seem to have a certain expression on your face …
Get over it, people. There is nothing wrong with Tsarnaev’s face. There is something wrong with Tsarnaev. These things are both true. Embrace the complexity that is reality.