“We are Muslims,” he answered clearly and steely-eyed. “We are Chechnyans. We are ethnic Chechnyans.”
Had the boys gotten radicalized, I wondered. The stories of so many—from Richard Reid, the “shoebomber,” to Faisal Shahzad, the alleged Time Square bomber--have included radicalization. The Boston area mosques haven’t been immune. “Do you think that they got radicalized in the mosques in that area?” I asked.
What I heard I couldn’t believe, I’ve become so used to the tactics of deflection. He looked me straight in the eye, and he said, “…most likely somebody radicalized them. But it’s not my brother, who just moved back to Russia, who spent his life bringing bread to their table, fixing cars, fixing cars.”
What happened when this Muslim American looked us in the eye and admitted the problem?
Tsarni became “Uncle Ruslan” to millions of Americans watching him on TV and later online, winning their respect, first, with apologies and then, with his hands clenched, fierce indignation, outrage and anger over the suspected role of his nephews as the Boston Marathon bombers. And there was his color too: Still using AOL when most don’t even know it still exits, scolding Dzhokhar to turn himself in.
The uncle stunned seasoned reporters, some of them veterans of the trials in Guantanamo Bay and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with his straight talk. First, he expressed his condolences to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and, then, declared loud and clear that his nephews brought “shame” on his family and the people of Chechnya, the family’s ethnicity: “Yes, of course, we’re ashamed. We’re ashamed. They’re children of my brother, who had little influence of them!” Later on Dzhokhar: “He put a shame on the entire Chechnyan ethnicity!” According to public records, Uncle Ruslan shared the same last name as his nephews but shortened it .
With close-cropped hair, a strong jawline and fit physique, the attorney became an accidental spokesman, instilling confidence as a truth-teller.
Admirers have created memes, or images, of his face, contorted in rage, revealing just how effective he has been in instilling confidence.
One meme headline: “Uncle Ruslan. Mosque Board Chairman 2013.”
His effectiveness reveals that the best crisis management doesn’t require intellectual gymnastic but just plain, honest talk: We have a problem. We know it. And we want to do right. Another “Uncle Ruslan” meme reads, “If you can believe it I have had no media training.” Yet another, “First time public speaking. Nailed it.”