Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rolling Stone's long article on "Jahar" Tsarnaev leaves some troubling questions open; Picture is no problem for me; Tamerlan was a "composer" (??)

I’m a bit neutral about Rolling Stone’s use of an “attractive” picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ("Jahar") on its cover, as I am about a Boston cop’s release of images of him bloodied when he was captured.  Yes, this was all against police department policy, and, yes, the public needs to know.
But the article by Janet Reitman, “Jahar’s World”, long and in five segments online, is important.  On balance, I think CVS and other retail outlets would do the public a better service by resuming sale of the print copy.  I would have no problem with paying for a print copy (and you all know that I support people “paying” for content and not expecting it all to be free).
Reitman gives a long biographical sketch of both Tamerlan and “Jahar”.  I did not know that Tamerlan was a “pianist and composer” (on p. 3 of the online essay).  What music he “composed” I have no idea.  I circulate quite a bit in both the classical and now movie and entertainment music world, and I had never heard of this (and think I should have).  It certainly sounds like an anomaly.  In any case, Tamerlan’s temperament, to move into boxing and outright physical competitiveness and combativeness, is certainly not typical of males in the art and music and “geek” world as I know it, even among young men who look “physical” otherwise.
More unsettling is the “motive” for the attacks, or the lack of one.  The article suggests that both men, like many (as she says) immigrant boys, felt a need to belong to the “mother country” culture.  Islam was as much a place to belong as a belief system.  America (or American and western culture) had become the “enemy” of their tribe.  A lot of this traces back to the economic troubles both brothers had during the economic downturn of recent years, which they could have viewed as related to the “evils” of excessive capitalism and self-indulgence.
What is striking about the attack at the Boston Marathon in April 15 is how personal it was.  The devices were set off in a crowd, next to individual people, some children but mostly young adults in their own primes, whom the brothers could see and possibly target even as individuals (for immediate maiming and disfigurement as I would see it, as horrifying as this sounds).  I wonder if that aspect or possibility has been investigated thoroughly, by both federal (for terrorism prosecution) and local Massachusetts authorities.  That suggests a grievance that can become personal and directed at specific people.  But that does not comport with the nebulous idea that the acts are “payback” because Muslims die overseas from American military action (or perhaps because of Zionist West Bank settlements).  Okay, we can get into the “friendly fire” abuses related by Wikileaks, Manning and others if we want (especially from Iraq); but the overwhelming quantity of violence in Muslim lands on Muslims is vented by other Muslims.  So none of this makes any sense.  Did the brothers want to make a statement about western self-indulgence, or economic and social inequality on a personal level, perhaps in a Maoist line of thinking>  The article doesn’t suggest anything like that and really doesn’t convey much of a sense of ideology at all.  The violence of their own rampage the early morning of April 19 was indeed shocking. 
Jahar’s tweets (even his thumbnail) and demeanor that last week are indeed troubling in other ways.  Did he really feel like he lived in the shadow of his older brother because he looked less imposing physically in some ways, as the article hints?
Even so, the real motives seem to deserve more investigation, which seems to have only just begun.  

Update: July 23

The New York Times has a moderate editorial on the Jahar picture and story in "Judging Rolling Stone by its Cover",  July 18, here

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