07/18/2013 09:15 EDT | Updated 09/17/2013 05:12 EDT

Don't Hate The Rolling Stone Cover Because it Makes You Uncomfortable

I was in my sophomore year of high school when 9/11 happened. I certainly wasn't a fully-formed thinking adult, but I wasn't an unconscious teenager either. I can remember it rather vividly.

What stands out the most to me wasn't that Tuesday, it was that Wednesday. On 9/12, the city I lived in, Coral Springs, Florida, was teeming with dark green FBI cars. They had converged on an apartment building that was less than a mile from my house and directly across the street from where I had gone to Hebrew School for so many years.


It turned out that Mohammad Atta, the so called leader of the 9/11 terrorism cell, had up until the day before the attack been living in that very apartment. This man who piloted a flight into one of the World Trade Centres had lived within a five-minute walk from me, in the middle of American suburbia.

I remember thinking, how could he not have been noticed? Weren't there warning signs of any kind? Certainly there were, but nothing that was so glaringly apparent that it made people or the authorities suspicious enough to take action.

Post-9/11, the popular image of terrorism was that of a Muslim man, somewhere in the Middle East, probably wearing a prayer cap and most likely plotting America's death from a cave.

In reality, the vast majority of the theoretical planning happened in some of the most affluent cities in Europe and the flight training happened in the United States with a number of individuals who had seemingly assimilated with American culture.

The Boston Bombings, the first major terrorism "whodunnit" case on American soil since 9/11, has made us re-asses what exactly has gone on in the last 12 years, how our concept of terrorism has evolved (or stagnated), and how we have adapted at combating it.

The issue behind this general outcry and uneasiness towards the cover of the August edition of Rolling Stone is not because it portrays Jahar Tsarnaev (known also as Dzhokhar) as innocent, but because it makes Americans come to terms with that which was seemingly brushed aside post-9/11 and which they fear the most: an enemy within.

This is a person who was American educated, who was on the school wrestling team, an honor's student, a college student, a kid who partied, smoked pot and generally showed no signs of extremism. Yet he is the source of such inexplicable horror.

Tsarnaev completely flew under the radar. He was seemingly the kid next door, but, as it turns out, he was actually the terrorist next door. I applaud Rolling Stone for tackling this issue head on and for their choice in cover because it makes us confront this issue which is easily dismissed by this narrative that radicalization must somehow begin abroad.

Perhaps what is most troublesome for many is that this piece appears not in a news magazine like Time or Newsweek, but in Rolling Stone. This same image of Tsarnaev was widely used by all media outlets when they first reported on who the Boston Bombers were.

Why is it okay for some news outlets to use this same photo repeatedly, but not Rolling Stone? As has been pointed out by numerous media outlets and in the commentary on social media, a Rolling Stone cover typically emphasizes glamour, sex and importance. To grace the cover of Rolling Stone is to represent a high point in one's career.

Rolling Stone certainly has done its fair share of covers like that, but they've also had some pretty damning investigative reports in the last few years (like the General Stanley McChrystal story; "The Runaway General" ) and a number of covers which display anything but glamour and sex, including, but not limited to, the 1970s cover of Charles Manson to their numerous cover stories lamenting the failures of the second Bush administration. Maybe the question shouldn't be "Why is Rolling Stone doing this cover/article" but rather "Why hasn't any of the other so-called news mags tackled this piece'?

In a time in which most Americans spend their political breaths trying to out American each other ("I'm a true patriot." "No, it's me who is the truest of patriots"), we're finally being forced to confront the reality that our current state of affairs are not entirely the product of foreign evils.

American problems are inherently American problems, and this is a most horrifying prospect since it requires real work rather than rhetoric to solve.

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