One of the strangest scenes to come out of the Boston Marathon bombings is the discomfiting image of an angry Zubeidat Tsarnaev defending her two sons, the dead and the living.
As a parent, I can understand the strong and conflicting emotions one would feel in the aftermath of such a tragedy. Surely having to deal with police investigators, news reporters and the unforgiving spotlight would drive anyone to distraction. In shock, any mother could utter words that shouldn’t be spoken, statements she would regret or correct with the clarity of hindsight.
But Tsarnaev’s public statements are much more than a grieving mother’s moaning. They suggest a willful blindness, a scary obfuscation of facts. I see them not as the ranting of a religious zealot — many in the media have filtered them in this manner — but as one more example of a parent eager to shift blame, to offer excuses for the inexcusable.
In media interviews last month, Tsarnaev — who, with her older son, was on a U.S. watch list — hinted that the bombings had been faked, part of a conspiracy. “A really big play,” as she put it. She told CNN she had seen an “interesting” video suggesting that idea and that the streets had been splashed with paint, not blood. “Like it is a made-up something,” she concluded.
Deluded? Certainly, and dangerously so.
Though she and her husband have since shied away from the media, Tsarnaev was adamant in an earlier press conference that her elder son had been arrested alive and died in custody. “What have you done to my son? Why did they have to kill him?” she demanded.
She did seem to careen into reality, if only briefly and for the singular purpose of mopping up her sons’ reputation. “I know one thing. This has been done and it was not my children,” she told reporters. “Everything that has been said does not match our children.”
In other words, blame the teacher. Blame the other kid. Blame society and video games and television, fast food advertising and misogynistic music.
I’ve heard variations of these excuses in other settings when parents, desperate to believe only the best about their children, cling to the flimsiest explanations. It makes me wonder why Tsarnaev and parents like her don’t look in the mirror before pointing fingers. Then again, that’s a silly, old-fashioned suggestion, isn’t it? It’s easier to coddle, to justify, to shift responsibility.
In Zubeidat Tsarnaev’s case, she also blames America, the country that opened its arms to her family when they moved to Boston in 2002. The country, in fact, that took in my family as exiles from Cuban communism. The country that has taken in millions of immigrants who have built new lives and raised successful children.
“Why did I go there? Why?” she lamented during a press conference. “America took my kids away from me.”
America did no such thing, figuratively or literally. Tsarnaev left them here when she jumped bail on shoplifting charges.
And for the millions of grateful immigrants living here and the many who want to come, the question now remains: “Why did America let this family in? Why them? Why?”
Follow Ana on Twitter @AnaVeciana.