Who is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?

No-one can deny that the Boston bombing incident was truly a horrific tragedy.  And while it is important to mourn the tragedy and the loss, its also a fascinating moment to take a little peek behind the scenes of media spin and consider how easily mainstream media can shape public sentiment.  For instance–which photo do you choose use when running your newspaper’s story about Dzhokhar–the fresh-faced, well-lit pic or the shadowy, squinty-eyed one?


dzhokarWhich one looks more like a terrorist to you?

And generally, it is the non-american media who paint a more complete picture.   Writing for al-Jazeera Sarah Kendzior sums up another oh-so-tempting media spin:  blame the ________s (fill in ethnic-minority of your choice).   She says it very eloquently in her article:

“Despite the Tsarnaevs’ American upbringing, the media has presented their lives through a Chechen lens. Political strife in the North Caucasus, ignored by the press for years, has become the default rationale for a domestic crime.

“Did Boston carnage have its roots in Stalin’s ruthless displacement of Muslims from Chechnya decades ago?” asked The Daily News , a question echoed by the National Post , the Washington Post , and other publications that refuse to see the Tsarnaevs as anything but walking symbols of age-old conflicts. Blame Stalin, the pundits cry, echoing the argument made every time something bad happens in the former Soviet Union. Blame Stalin, because we can pronounce that name.

In one sense, this sentiment is not new. American Muslims have long had to deal with ignorance and prejudice in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. “ Please don’t be Muslims or Arabs “, goes the refrain, as unnecessary demands for a public apology from Muslims emerge. This week made it clear that it is Muslims who are owed the apology. After wild speculation from CNN about a “dark-skinned suspect”, on Thursday the New York Post published a cover photo falsely suggesting a Moroccan-American high school track star, Salah Barhoun , was one of the bombers. ”Jogging while Arab” has become the new “ driving while black “.

Later that Thursday, the FBI released photos of two young men wearing baseball caps – men who so resembled all-American frat boys that people joked they would be the target of “ racial bro-filing “. The men were Caucasian, so the speculation turned away from foreign terror and toward the excuses routinely made for white men who kill: mental illness, anti-government grudges, frustrations at home. The men were white and Caucasian – until the next day, when they became the wrong kind of Caucasian, and suddenly they were not so “white” after all.”

I recommend reading the whole article here.

So the next time this kind of story erupts in the mainstream media and suddenly everybody is talking about it, don’t just buy into the mainstream spin.  Take a deeper look at who is saying what about whom and why.   Ask yourself and your friends and co-workers what the bigger connections are that the media is drawing.   Are they accurate?  And what agenda are they serving?

Here’s Sarah’s advise:

“One way to test whether you are reading a reasonable analysis of the Tsarnaev case – and yes, they exist  - is to replace the word “Chechen” with another ethnicity. “I could always spot the Chechens in Vienna,” writes journalist Oliver Bulloughs in the New York Times . “They were darker-haired than the Austrians; they dressed more snappily, like 1950s gangsters; they never had anything to do.” Now substitute the word “Jews” for “Chechens”. Minority-hunting in Vienna never ends well .”

[this post guest written by Kassia]