, Port Arthur, Texas


July 22, 2013

More to Rolling Stone than cover

PORT ARTHUR — There's no denying it — we're a single-minded society.

When disaster strikes, we want to find one culprit to pin the whole sad mess on. Guns. Bullying. Lack of parental involvement. Too much parental involvement. Video games.

Examples of this are woven throughout history. When Colorado teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold opened fire on Columbine High School, leaving 12 classmates and one teacher dead before turning the guns on themselves, the public was quick to blame the tragedy on the verbal abuse the shooters had allegedly endured at the hands of those very classmates. Then came reports to the contrary — that Harris and Klebold had been the perpetrators of bullying rather than the victims. Perhaps, the public said, these high school seniors were innately evil after all. After that came other unsubstantiated claims, among them that Harris and Klebold were inspired by the music of Marilyn Manson. But we'll never know.

A more recent example is the Trayvon Martin case in Florida. One side painted George Zimmerman as an unruly would-be cop who stalked and shot 17-year-old Martin for no reason other than the color of his skin. Opponents have determined that Martin was a hardened delinquent, who attacked Zimmerman — a man he described to witness Rachel Jeantel as a "creepy-ass cracker" — without provocation, leaving the then-28-year-old with no other option but to shoot Martin once in the heart, killing him. Everyone has reached their respective conclusions without ever being present at the scene.

The point I'm making here is, these problems can only be cured at their source. The trouble with that is there is almost never only one single source. These problems are multifaceted, complex — and, until we make even the least bit of effort to understand, recurring.

I was inspired to write this column by the latest issue of Rolling Stone magazine. The cover is dominated by a face all of America now recognizes — a youthful face, with soulful brown eyes, framed by disheveled brown locks. We recognize this face because it is that of 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of two suspects in the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings that left three people dead and nearly 300 more injured.

People were outraged. Thousands took to Facebook, claiming the last issue of the magazine they'd purchased would be the last one they ever purchased. Several retailers, including CVS Pharmacy, removed the magazines from their shelves, vowing that another issue of Rolling Stone would never be seen inside their stores.

What none of these people did, however, was open the magazine. I did, and I read the story that accompanied the now-infamous picture, titled "Jahar's World." From the jargon-riddled account of Dzhokhar "Jahar" Tsarnaev's closest friends, a hazy image began to emerge — one of a young immigrant from a war-torn country, trying to weed out a sense of identity from a broken household; an elder brother whose rekindled religious beliefs were now bordering on fervor; and the underlying notion that he, with his parents home in Russia and him virtually on his own in Massachusetts, didn't quite belong anywhere.

No one forced Tsarnaev's hand. His choices were his own. But a number of variables led him to those choices. What is so wrong about, instead of dismissing him as just another misguided zealot, examining those variables to get even some fleeting sense of why he did this?

What would happen if those same people decrying Rolling Stone instead picked up the issue and proceeded to read? We may not find answers, but we might pick up some questions to ask. And the solution to most problems usually begins with asking the right questions.


Twitter: @ErinnPA

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