Although I haven’t read the latest cover story, I did see the photo of
the “Boston Bomber” and read the copy that was right there, attached
to, and very much an important part of, that photo. And that is what
this column is about: making that point.
Americans as a collective group are just as protective of their
general family (those who live in this country) and home (this country
and all parts of it) as any individuals might be of their particular
family members and their particular neighborhood, apartment, house or
mobile home. Should anyone threaten or wreak havoc upon one’s loved
ones in any way, we understand that the defense mechanism goes into
play – and it often does not have a pretty face.
Sometimes one who wreaks havoc – or terror – on others comes with a
face that matches that kind of behavior. It’s as though such a one not
only grew into having a certain kind of face, but grew up developing
it, a little at a time, until one day the face would actually reflect
what was in the heart. We can search any number of files for faces of
madmen or murderers or terrorists who looked very much like the kind
of person they were found out to be. Yet as we must also surely know
by now, there are those of whom it has been said, “He was such a nice,
quiet child. He wouldn’t be capable of doing such a thing.” Or even,
“I’ve known him all his life. Everyone loves him. He simply wouldn’t
hurt a flea. He couldn’t have done those horrible things.” And yet we
know things like that are often said about an individual who might
have just mowed down innocent children in a school, or someone who
just bombed bystanders at the finish line of a Boston marathon.
So along comes Rolling Stone’s latest cover, bearing the photo of
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – and I can only wonder how many people saw that
cover and didn’t bother to read the words that put that photo into
context: THE BOMBER “How a popular, promising student was failed by
his family, fell into radical Islam and became a monster.
And so comes the point: Not all terrorists look like terrorists. Not
all good-looking guys live a life to match their good looks. People
cannot be judged by their looks alone. Even “nice” boys born and/or
raised in this country can get caught up in the politics and craziness
of fanatics who believe we (and that would be those of us who live in
this country and live according to our own beliefs and enjoy a certain
degree of freedom) need to be taught a lesson to make their point,
whatever that may be. People raised in this country, exposed to the
values that most in this country would subscribe to, if not always 100
percent of the time and in every situation, have a common bond of
togetherness, camaraderie, and sense of brotherhood — and to see “one
of our own” lash out against us in that way definitely needs to have
the whys and wherefores examined and explored to help us understand.
That cover photo shows a concept that we need to see and understand:
that photo clearly shows the beauty in the beast.
And it isn’t even just Rolling Stone’s cover that tries to make that
point. When there is any kind of tragedy, try telling anyone your
particular point of view if it doesn’t seem to match up with the
popular public point of view, the one that most people espouse or the
one that gets the most media coverage. Hand-me-down points of view
seem to eliminate the need for people to think. It’s very useful to
explore other points of view, but to hook onto one without that
exploration for oneself is the kind of viewpoint-espousing that led to
lynchings in the not-so-distant past.
I’m a big fan of thinking things through. If we teach our children
that “terrorists” have a certain look, then we are shortchanging them
and possibly even putting their lives in danger. If we believe we
could spot a terrorist by how he treats his “friends” and neighbors
and classmates, then we know nothing about terrorists.
I’d like to share an experience I had with a “terrorist” not too long
ago. One day when I was heading home by bus, a good-looking young man
with a look and accent that made me think he was of Mediterranean
ethnicity sat down next to me. We struck up a delightful conversation
and I would have been happy to keep it going, but I had to get off at
the very next stop. Quite unexpectedly to me, it turned out that he
was also getting off at that stop. He invited me to go somewhere to
have coffee with him so we could continue our conversation. Being the
outgoing and not-automatically-fearful person that I am, coupled with
the fact that he was a very good conversationalist, I agreed, and we
followed through with that plan. As we were talking, he asked me right
out of the blue, “What would you say if I told you I was a terrorist?”
I asked him if he really was. He said no, but added, “Real terrorists
would never tell you the truth.” Then he asked, “Why weren’t you
automatically afraid of me? Most people would at least be somewhat
concerned because of how I look, and definitely afraid of me if I told
them what I just told you.”
Needless to say, I cannot tell you if he was or was not a terrorist.
But I can tell you that what he said was true: “Real terrorists would
never tell you the truth.” Just as we can all agree that we would
probably tell a lie to save the life of a friend or loved one (such as
lying when asked, if one were in such a situation during WWII: “Are
you harboring any Jews in this house?”), terrorists are taught to lie
about anything to achieve their goal.
The point is, we can never know from their faces or their words or
their actions what they are really up to as they go about their daily
business. They are taught to blend in; to make “friends”; to act
ordinary or “American,” whatever that might mean.
Rolling Stone featured an attractive and unfortunately
no-longer-”ordinary” person on the cover of their latest magazine. Was
it to give Dzhokhar Tsarnaev additional and undue publicity? Was it to
“glorify” him? Was it to offer teenage girls or young women who don’t
know any better one more pretty face to swoon over? Or was it to show,
since he has put himself into this celebrity position by virtue of
what he did, that terrorists can be just as “pretty” as rock stars or
Isn’t that the point? We need to understand everything we can behind
If only the ugly, bloody, “usual” or “normal” photos of terrorists are
put before us, whether in the act of perpetrating the terror or in the
act of being caught, we might never get to understand the “rock star”
or the “boy-next-door” type of terrorist that we might have come to
befriend or perhaps even love as we continue to live in ignorance of
what really goes on in their minds and hearts and actions behind the
Rolling Stone is on to something. And we would do well to get the point.
Maramis Choufani is the Managing Editor of the Las Vegas Tribune. She
writes a weekly column in this newspaper. To contact Maramis, email
her at firstname.lastname@example.org.