Roy Exum: The Rolling Stone Tragedy

Friday, July 26, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I rarely read “Rolling Stone” magazine because I have no respect for any publication that regularly uses gutter words in its stories. In my opinion, filthy language weakens any argument and some teenager may think it’s cool and hip but it is not. Further, most of its stories hold little interest for me.

I am also no fan – at all – of the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar “Jahar” Tsarnaev, who riotously graces the August cover. If he is found guilty by a court of law for maiming hundreds at this year’s event, put me down as one who thinks he should be put to death the very next day. Yes, I still believe in the death penalty and this is an ideal instance where it should be imposed.

But, far worse, I don’t want CVS pharmacy, Walgreen’s or 7-Eleven telling me what I should read and what I should not. Jon McCain, one of America’s greatest heroes after what he endured at the Hanoi Hilton, told viewers on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that Jahar on the cover was “stupid, and I thought it was inappropriate." He also noted, “Rolling Stone probably got more publicity than they've had in 20 years," he said.

The outcry is that the magazine is making our newest punk out to be a rock star and that the cover photo establishes him as some sort of folk hero. That’s ridiculous. The trouble is the very ones who deplore the magazine have not read the story and therefore fail to see that Janet Reitman’s excellent article explains why a promising, bright kid became a “monster” in almost the blink of an eye.

For the record, I don’t understand the Aurora shootings, the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre or the other senseless horrors that are happening in my lifetime. How can you learn, or explain to a child, if you don’t read and study such a deranged tragedy? I enjoyed Reitman’s article immensely. It was well-written, factual, and hardly portrayed the younger Tsarnaev as anything other than a badly-twisted kid who deeply hurt thousands of Americans and dimmed the dreams of many more.

How’s this? Jahar was nominated for the National Honor Society as a sophomore. He was so admired and liked that he was elected captain of his wrestling team as a junior. He was a stand-up teenager who was cursed by a sordid home life, an older brother who lured him into Islam, and who – in the end –fell for life’s new cop-out.

Reitman’s telling paragraph: “Why a person with an extreme or “radical” ideology may decided to commit violence is an inexact science but experts agree there must be a cognitive opening on some sort. ‘A person is angry and he needs some explanation for that angst,’ explains the Soufan’s Group’s Tom Neer. “Projected blame is a defense mechanism. Rather than say, ‘I’m lost. I’ve got a problem,’ it is must easier to find a convenient enemy or scapegoat. The justification comes later – say, U.S. Imperialism, or whatever. It’s the explanation that is key.”

So here is a kid whose parents move back to Russia after failing to find the dream, who idolized an older brother who turned rancid when a boxing career was sidelined because Tamerlin was not an America citizen, and who soon got sucked into a misguided Muslim mindset that proved lethal. In other words, it was America’s fault. And because the United States killed Muslims in Afghanistan, the Tsarnaev would seek revenge.

Less than a month before the pressure-cooker bombs went off, Jahar tweeted, “People come into your life to help you, hurt you, love you and leave you and that shapes your character and the person you were meant to be.” Two days later he added, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.”

About a week before three were killed and hundreds were maimed – losing limbs, eyesight and life as they once knew it – Jahar wrote, “If you have the knowledge and inspiration all that’s left is to take action.”

Although he is presumed innocent until proven otherwise, and has pleaded “not guilty” in preliminary hearings, Jahar’s downward fall is a great personal tragedy. His brother is dead. His life is ruined and America has a new scar. That said, what on earth did he accomplish? My personal belief is that we should strive to share his story and its pitfalls with would-be cowards of the same ilk.

My belief is you do not hide a story like this one, or “shoot the messenger,” but instead use it as a teaching source in schools, recreation centers and anywhere a kid may have second thoughts before he gets similarly twisted and ruins not only his life but that of his family and friends. Teach people there is no way violence will ever accomplish anything.

The Rolling Stone story told how the nurses at Beth Israel Hospital were ambivalent towards Jahar in his recovery for fear they “might like him” and that there is very much a blood lust alive for his ultimate demise. But what really is that? Hatred? Fear? The very things we deplore in others but try so hard not to admit ourselves?

In all honestly I don’t hate Tsarnaev. I think he should pay the steepest price for his crimes against mankind but none of us should allow his individual actions to categorize Muslims in the United States. A news story yesterday said that single-issue sales of Rolling Stone magazine are up 20 percent this month. And why is it that there was no out-roar when the same picture that graces the magazine cover was on the front page of the New York Times three weeks prior?

Hatred and fear must be tempered and to “boycott”  the magazine, which is certainly the right of CVS and Walgreen’s, does little to encouraging Americans like me to read the article and draw personal conclusions. Knowledge is the sharpest knife in the drawer and it is my belief that the only way to prevent Jahars in the future is to properly educate them. We must teach that shootings and violence accomplish nothing but pain and sorrow.

At one time it is very apparent Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a good kid. His teachers and coaches adored him. He had many friends and even earned a college scholarship. When you look past your hatred and your prejudice, you’ll see that is true. What happened in Boston is tragic and only until we study and learn and try, can we stop another senseless bombing from happening again.

We must study it, learn from it, and try.

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