I was horrified by the Boston Marathon. As was the civilized world. Slaughtering innocent people is always wrong. Period. And Dzokhar Tsarnaev will justly rot in jail.
But the only way to defeat this kind of terrorism, as the British, French, Israelis, and other countries that have known real terror know, is to ignore it. To call around, make sure your friends are OK, and then go to the pub and get on with your day. And to talk about it rationally.
But America, and much more so Canada, are very new to this game. Our generation has never known war, with a very few atypical exceptions. Neither has our parents. Our grandparents remembered the last one, but even then it was something that was happening elsewhere. To other people.
Dzokhar Tsarnaev is not other people. He was an American, and people who deny that deny that the word has any meaning at all. He looks like someone you know. Someone you could have grown up with. Someone familiar.
That’s what horrifies America about him. That’s what shakes a certain type of person to their very core.
And to see him on the cover of Rolling Stone, beneath letters that have framed all the young idols of a generation, from John Lennon to Bob Marley to Deadmau5, is deeply, deeply unsettling.
But the fault doesn’t lie with Rolling Stone for being good journalists after all, or for capitalizing on it. The fault lies with the racism of the public narrative that Rolling Stone is challenging. We’re being confronted with the ugly truth that ideology doesn’t have borders anymore, and that good little white kids can be just as monstrous as brown ones.
There have been literally thousands of suicide bombers across the Middle East. The walls and floors of Gaza are covered with posters and flyers with the faces of martyrs on them. I’m willing to bet good money that he’s not the first terrorist to have gotten this treatment. He’s not even the first American, if you think back to Dillinger, Manson, hell, even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. He is, however, the first American Muslim.
But there are people, and plenty of them, who will never be comfortable with that idea. There’s a deep, vicious streak of bigotry in America. The same people who think Trayvon Martin was just one of ‘those people’ don’t know what to do with Dzokhar Tsarnaev. He doesn’t really compute.
I emphatically don’t extend the blame for this bigotry to the people of Boston, who are justifiably upset at having their emotions played with like this. I know my emotional response would be different if it was my home town, and my friends in the firing line.
I don’t even really blame the bigots. It’s hard to blame them for wanting to believe easy narratives. It’s so much simpler to live in a black-and-white, Manichean world where the bad guys are always hideous orcs and the goodies invariably win the day. Everything takes on a kind of false clarity.
But the world isn’t that simple. People are good, and people are bad. Ideology, which we’ve pretended for twenty long, dull years of neo-liberalism is a spent force, never goes away, and it makes people kill.
It’s the same reason that the parents of the children killed at Utoya by Anders Behring Breivik were so relieved that the court found him sane. They didn’t want him to have that excuse. His Manifesto was rambling, it was thick-headed, it was barbaric, and it was hateful. It wasn’t lunatic. No matter what people tell themselves.
It’s the same reason it rankles with some people that Michael Adebolajo, who brutally hacked Drummer Rigby to death in the street outside Woolwich Barracks, is being given a civilian trial. Soldiers are somehow different. In foreign countries, they’re legitimate military targets. And i wonder what Michael Adebolajo genuinely thinks about his British passport.
People are not hateful. People are not evil. Ideologies are. There are good ones, and there are evil ones, yes. But to imagine that the choices between them will always be simple and obvious is a comforting delusion.
Lots of people