‘Fundamentalist’ Americans miss the point of Boston bomber cover

Glory is the preserve of the patriotic American. Never was this belief more obvious than when Rolling Stone dared to publish on the cover of its latest edition a photograph of the alleged Boston bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The photograph — a face-on profile of the young, good-looking Chechen, his hair tousled, his chin stubbled — provoked a storm of fury so blistering Americans vowed in droves to cancel subscriptions, boycott advertisers, call for heads to roll, refuse to buy or sell it, burn the offending magazine or use it as fish wrap and toilet paper.

It wasn’t the content — an insightful, tragic backstory about how a promising young man got drawn into a violent fundamentalist world — that had offended; indeed, most commentators seem not to have read the article at all. Rather, it was the fact that the American public, raised on a diet of reality shows and celebrity, instinctively conflated publicity with fame. It assumed Rolling Stone was glorifying Tsarnaev by placing him on its cover.

The response reflected in part the iconic status Rolling Stone holds in the collective American psyche: supplanting the usual subjects — cool, idolised, semi-clothed rock stars and actresses — with an alleged terrorist was just too distasteful for most.

But it was really the image itself which prompted such violent reaction, for it failed to mesh with people’s perceptions of what a terrorist might look like: Tsarnaev wasn’t sporting a long beard or wearing Islamic clothing, his eyes didn’t glisten with malice, his persona didn’t suggest aggression or sociopathic traits, he wasn’t photographed sitting in the midst of some far-off Islamic conflict. Indeed, this image carries no hint that the subject is in fact Muslim, and an alleged terrorist.  Continue reading


Catherine Marshall is a journalist and travel writer.

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