In the midst of an unfolding story, it is difficult to comment. No formulating your thesis before all the facts come rolling in. No reviews before the movie ends. No obituaries with George Soros still alive and kicking. 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 Antoine Dodson meets that sorority sister whose irate rant has been lighting up the blogs. But it was more than that. It was quotable. It was timely. It was poignant. It was wild, dramatic, angry, over-the-top. We can learn a great deal in the upcoming hours and 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 this unfolds. The New Yorker’s Nicholas Thompson said he looked like he was about ready to go hunt down the suspects himself. People on Twitter are already comparing him to a Russian Chuck Norris. You don’t want to be on Uncle Ruslan’s bad side. Best Dramatic Performance by an Uncle, people on Twitter said. 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 and speak 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 unhappy 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 to the surviving suspect.
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. It’s what the comedian Patton Oswalt posted on Facebook right after this happened. “…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, not yours.
It would have been remarkable if it had 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, who (if the behavior of our worse angels in previous similar circumstances is any indication) could be on the receiving end of serious ugliness himself, is a real 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 their 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.
He ended: “Again, with the families of those who suffered, we share the grief with them… We seek forgiveness. Thank you.”
This was a moment we all needed.