While the numerous people who unfollowed me on Twitter during the George Zimmerman trial may disagree, I consider myself to be well-versed in current events. I went to school in the nation’s capital and worked in politics throughout my time in school, as well as after graduation. I watch the news, I read the paper, and I engage in political discussions with friends on both sides of the aisle. I’d like to think that I’m pretty open-minded. I appreciate good arguments, I admit when I’m wrong, and I’ve never used the Bible to validate a point. I understand that as human beings, we will never all get along; sometimes we have to agree to simply disagree.
One of the greatest things about being an American is that we are able to engage in this political repartee. We have freedom of speech. We have elections. We have a balance of power. We may disagree on healthcare, or abortion, or immigration, or property rights, or whether or not the birth certificate is real, and that’s okay. It’s okay because though we may not see eye to eye on the issue(s) at hand, that issue is not what ultimately defines us. We are Americans first. Every other identification, classification, categorization, etc. takes a back seat. As brothers and sisters of this country, we are all united as citizens, if nothing else. We share the same National Anthem, we share the same president, and we share the same capital. We love to argue, we love to disagree, but we know when to unite.
Growing up as an Army brat living on military bases, I learned at a very young age that tragedies bring people together. In times of heavy combat, funerals were all too common. They were held at the on-post worship center that holds services for all faiths, depending on the day of the week. After the prayers were read, and the hymns were sung, and the flag was folded, and the guns were fired, the attendants walked solemnly, heads down, back to their respective cars. Perhaps a week prior, the very same people in attendance would have engaged in a political argument. Perhaps a week later, they did. But at that moment, on that morning, they were all simply Americans, and they were grieving.
On the morning of 9/11, I wonder if anyone discussed politics. As our nation stood under attack, as thousands of victims died unnecessarily, as children became orphans, as wives became widows, as first responders ran into collapsing buildings, and eighteen-year-olds walked into military recruiting offices, I wonder if anyone discussed the unemployment rate or hanging chads. I may not have the authority to say that I bet these topics were not broached, but I bet these topics were not broached. I’m sure that as people stood in lines wrapped around city blocks to give blood and volunteers sifted through the rubble searching through survivors, that divisive subjects were not only not discussed, but were simply not even thought about. Instead, scriptures and verses were likely recited, tears were likely shed, God Bless America was likely sung, and hands were likely held.
You see, the thing about tragedies is that despite the confusion and the chaos, they make people unite. Mr. Rogers famously once said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
Those words have stuck with me. They are powerful, and more importantly, they are true. I am not a sociologist or an anthropologist, and I admittedly never even took a human behavior course in college. Thus, I cannot begin to explain or rationalize why it is that we as humans come together during times of crisis, all I can do is appreciate it.
On the afternoon of April 15th, I did what Mrs. Rogers told her son to do so many years ago; I looked for the helpers. I stared at my TV screen and watched the playbacks of runners, family members, and officials running toward the explosions. Mrs. Rogers was right. You will always find people who are helping.
Within seconds of the story breaking, social media was completely abuzz. “Boston Strong” statuses filled my newsfeed, news reports were feverishly retweeted, and photos of Bean Town littered Instagram. A tragedy had once again struck, and we were once again united.
Slowly but surely, the devastating numbers were reported and confirmed. Lives were lost and lives were forever changed. Following the explosions of two homemade bombs, the blood of three dead and 264 wounded were on the hands of two young men. The nation watched with baited breath during the days following the bombings. Four days after the attack, one suspect was dead and the other was in police custody.
In all honesty, I never cared to know too much about the two brothers who bombed the Boston Marathon. They were monsters, that, I knew, but I simply had no interest in learning of their family history or seeing pictures of their prom dates. It was eerily reminiscent to the Casey Anthony coverage, with reporters salivating over these young killers and grasping at the slightest personal detail. Interviewees, no more relevant than a freshman year lab partner, became expert character witnesses. Childhood psychologists were called in. Former babysitters were questioned. The media was obsessed with unwrapping these cold killers. Why had they done this? Who were these killers? They were grasping at straws, literally clinging to the tiniest bit of trivial information that might give some insight into what made them tick.
While I personally never cared to hear about the childhoods of Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, I understood why people were interested. Perhaps for many, it was soothing to learn about them, every fact acting as a puzzle piece as to why they committed this act of violent hatred. As a nation, we desperately wanted answers. Why did this happen? Who are these people? As Americans, we were all on the same page. We were united. These two men had killed and injured our own. They were monsters. We were angry and we wanted justice.
I believed this all to be true until yesterday.
This week’s Rolling Stone magazine features Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover. The description of the article provided by the magazine itself states that the story seeks to uncover the real Tsarnaev, who the magazine describes as a “charming kid” with a once “bright future.” It provides a “riveting and heartbreaking account” of what led him to murder.
I’m sorry. What?
The writer responsible for this journalistic bullshit is contributing editor Janet Reitman, who apparently spent two months working on the article, speaking with friends, family, and acquaintances of the Tsarnaev brothers. The article is essentially an attempt to both humanize and victimize the younger brother, Dzhokhar, with Reitman painting him as malleable, weak, and a victim of circumstance.
Tsarnaev, according to Reitman, is the product of mental illness and neglectful parents. He is a devout Muslim who felt as though he had to hide his religion because of his self-perceived notion that Americans are anti-Islam. He is a product of his raising, claims Reitman. A lost, unaccepted, and socially awkward child, Tsarnaev acted out in anger and frustration. He is a victim too, claims Reitman.
Since when do we sympathize with terrorists? Is this a new development that I missed? I recall not too long ago when terrorists were monsters. They were killers. They were a direct threat to our nation. While I understand that the Tsarnaev brothers are not believed to have had ties with any major terrorist organizations, a terrorist is someone who uses violence in the pursuit of political and personal aims, and that is exactly what was done in Boston.
In fact, Dzhokhar, the brother profiled by Rolling Stone, has long been a terrorist sympathizer. The article even mentions that he claimed that 9/11 was a justifiable attack by Al Qaeda. Justifiable.
So forgive me, Ms. Reitman, if I don’t see Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as a victim. I see him as a radical. I see him and people like him as a threat to our nation. We are supposed to be the country that unites after a tragedy. We are not supposed to be the country that sympathizes with evil.
The silver lining to this blasphemous piece of journalism is that many people are angry about it. Since the cover story broke last night, social media has been abuzz and #BoycottRollingStone is trending on Twitter. It is rumored that stores are considering banning the magazine from their shelves; CVS has confirmed that they will not be carrying this week’s issue.
I miss the old America. The one I knew to be true until yesterday, the America that didn’t glamorize terrorists, the America that united after tragedies.
[via Rolling Stone]