Rolling Stone’s August cover story on Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, elicited a surprising public furor largely focused on the “rock star” treatment of Tsarnaev in its cover photo.
Did 19-year-old Tsarnaev look “too cool or too glamorous” for someone suspected of committing a terror attack?
Did the accompanying story balance that by revealing the real workings of his radical mind?
The coverage fixated on the glamour shot instead of the substance lacking in the story itself, but our nation needs to have a deeper conversation about how Muslims “next door” become our enemies.
In more than 10,000 words of intrigue and victimization, Janet Reitman wove a narrative that Tsarnaev was a victim of a mentally ill older brother and, worse yet, that America may have failed these poster boys of Islamist radicalism. She gave little to no credence to the intoxicating role of global Islamist ideology — political Islam — upon his radicalization.
Rolling Stone readers gained little understanding of how this normal-looking kid became a suspect in a cold-blooded terror attack that killed three people and injured at least 260 in the streets of Boston. For aspiring copycat Islamists, Reitman’s soft narrative may engender sympathy to global Islamism or “jihadi cool.”
The uproar over the photo missed the real story: Tsarnaev’s normal, unsuspecting looks define the face of terror for many Islamists who threaten our freedom. Maj. Nidal Hasan and Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, to name a couple, appeared to be everyday Americans. But when we peel back the skin-deep facade and get to the ideological primer that inspired these men, we find the root of Islamist extremism.
The common pathway for most Islamist radicals such as the brothers Tsarnaev is their enlistment into a violent form of Islamo-patriotism or jihad against America. That treason is not posted on their foreheads.
It’s easier when our enemy fits the stereotype of the prototypical jihadist: unkempt, bearded, shouting “Allahu Akbar” and locked up in an orange jumpsuit ready for death row. It’s anesthetizing to believe we can always pick them out of a lineup. The intoxicant of radical Islamism can infect any good-looking teen or young adult.
Most Islamists on their way toward militant radicalization look more like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev than Osama bin Laden.
Rolling Stone lost an opportunity to teach us that while not every Muslim is an Islamist, every Islamist could be headed down the common global path of anti-American radicalization as a threat to our national security.
The cover photo was sadly accurate. Once we accept that there is no way to effectively profile their outward appearances, we’ll be forced to begin to figure out how to counter the Islamist narratives that infect our enemies.
All Americans, and especially Muslims, need to face the fact that any Muslim who believes in the political supremacy of loyalty to political Islam is susceptible to radicalization at home, in our families and communities, on the Web and abroad. To ignore that threat is to leave our nation in peril.
Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is the president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, founded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the United States as an effort to provide an American Muslim voice advocating for the preservation of the founding principles of the United States Constitution, liberty and freedom, through the separation of mosque and state. He is the author of Battle for the Soul of Islam. Dr. Jasser served 11 years as a medical officer in the U. S. Navy and was Staff Internist for the Office of the Attending Physician to the U.S. Congress.