Column: A Lesson From Our Favorite Chechen Uncle
Ruslan Tsarni is angry.
Uncle of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects whose baseball-capped images have dominated our TVs and computer screens, Tsarni delivered an impromptu news conference Friday from his Montgomery Village, Md., yard that has already slipped into the realm of meme and legend.
He denounced the men who authorities say are responsible for Monday’s tragedy. Asked what the suspects’ motive might have been, he responded simply, “Being losers.”
It is difficult to comment while a story is still unfolding. No formulating your thesis before all the facts come rolling in. No reviews before the movie ends. But the half-tirade, half-inspirational speech from the man Twitter is already dubbing “Uncle Ruslan” was an isolated, brilliant moment in the midst of chaos. It was quotable, timely and poignant. It was wild, dramatic, angry, over the top. We can learn a great deal in the coming weeks, and it will not alter the peculiar magic of this speech.
Tsarni began by delivering condolences: “Those who were injured — this boy, this Chinese girl, the young 29-year-old girl — I’ve been following this from Day One.” He is with us. He is one of the millions of people watching, horrified, as tragedy unfolds. The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson said Tsarni looked about ready to go hunt down the suspects himself. Some online compared him to a Russian Chuck Norris. You don’t want to be on Uncle Ruslan’s bad side. Best Dramatic Performance by an Uncle, Twitter agrees. Skip the Eugene O’Neill plays. Give this man a talk show. Give him everything we have to give. Fire Uncle Sam. Get us Uncle Ruslan.
This is the sort of inspiring speech that we all hope we could give, under any circumstances — much less the one in which he was asked to step up. Anything that rears its head after moments of tragedy, he covered. He was irate at the perpetrators of this violence and said they did not deserve to be on this Earth.
He acknowledged our unfortunate tendency to spread the blame to entire groups. (“He put a shame on our family. .... He put a shame on the entire Chechen ethnicity because now everyone blames Chechens. ... When a Muslim or a person of color does something, someone always has to defend the whole community.”)
“Dzhokhar, if you are alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness from the victims, from the injured and from those who left,” he pleaded.
People like Uncle Ruslan remind us that it’s the apples, not the barrel. Here is the humanity the bombers themselves were missing, in indignant spades. This is the spirit Patton Oswalt was talking about when he posted on Facebook right after the bombings: “Every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. ... So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’” He’s right. We outnumber you. Your uncle is on our side.
It would have been remarkable had it stopped there. But it didn’t.
A reporter asked Tsarni his opinion of America. He spoke eloquently: “I teach my children. .... This is the ideal micro-world in the entire world. I respect this country. I love this country. This country which gives chance to everybody else to be treated as a human being and to just to be human being. To feel yourself human being.”
I hope we keep living up to that.
To hear this from the uncle of the suspects, someone who could be on the receiving end of serious ugliness himself (if the behavior of our worse angels in previous circumstances is any indication), is a testimony to all the best things we hope are true about this country. And this in the midst of memorable yelling about the shame his nephews have brought on their family and entire ethnicity. (“Losers!”)
“From now on, I ask you to respect our property,” he concluded. I hope we do. I hope we keep showing the good side of this place he’s chosen to make his home. He certainly managed to. Let’s keep being the place that Ruslan Tsarni believes we are. After all, the last thing America needs is to get on Uncle Ruslan’s bad side.
Alexandra Petri writes for The Washington Post.