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Terrorist image in cover photo an eye-opener

Published: Friday, July 26, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
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Aazam Khan

A lot has been said recently about the decision by Rolling Stone to place Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of its most recent issue.

Many media outlets have blasted the publication, saying it depicts Tsarnaev in a gracious light, as a celebrity or maybe even as martyr. Others called it exploitative. I believe we may be missing the point here. For instance, a co-worker of mine, while discussing the story, was critical of the fact the picture was “actually a good picture.” 

Herein lies the brilliance of this Rolling Stone cover, coupled with the terrible problem our current society faces. It’s a good picture of Tsarnaev, because it’s supposed to be. 

This cover has shocked many of us because we all have preconceived notions of what exactly a terrorist should look like. When we picture a terrorist, we expect to see a sociopath, maybe a crazed look in his eyes, with disheveled hair and an unflattering face. What Rolling Stone shows us in Tsarnaev, however, is the scariest sight of all; the boy next door.

The article details the life of Dzhokhar, affectionately known as “Jahar” in his hometown of Cambridge, Mass., in his transition from a mild-mannered, assimilated immigrant, to his eventual radicalization, finally leading up to the terrible events of April 15. Jahar was not raising red flags throughout his upbringing; he wasn’t a miscreant; he didn’t lead his life with vitriol toward American society, but seemingly in the blink of an eye, he became all of those things.

This is why I believe the Rolling Stone cover was not a disgrace, but rather an eye-opener. There’s no longer a stereotypical terrorist. There’s no defined set of rules and regulations met to be considered a threat. Society has proven to us any impressionable teenager is capable being led down a destructive path.

I think we’re also forgetting what journalism is all about here – to discuss controversial issues and not shy away from certain topics. Good journalism doesn’t discuss straightforward topics, but rather challenges us to look at things from a perspective we may haven’t otherwise considered.

We shouldn’t expect to open up a newspaper or magazine and read opinions in line with our own, only to confirm we’re right and validate our own position on issues. We should be open to topics such as this cover and story, which exposes a different side and leads us to think. This cover in no way glorifies Tsarnaev, what glory could he achieve?

This cover opens us up to a new line of thought, exactly what good journalism should do.

So was it justified for Rolling Stone to plaster an innocent-faced, seemingly harmless Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, better known as the Boston Bomber, on its magazine cover and mass distribute it? I believe so, because it exposes a serious issue in our society. 

The article contains a quote from Tsarnaev’s old high school wrestling coach, Peter Payack, which puts it best, “I knew this kid, and he was a good kid. And, apparently, he’s also a monster.”

Note to readers: Aazam Khan is a graduate of Dixon High School and currently pursuing an associate degree at Sauk Valley Community College. He plans to transfer to the University of Illinois.

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