When events like those in Boston seize our attention, the nuance of real life gives way to black and white moral polarities: unspeakable evil and heroic gallantry. Little room exists for supporting roles.
But occasionally we glimpse something so human, so devoid of stereotype, so endearingly real, that we are overcome with empathy and a certain sense of solidarity. And so it was with Ruslan Tsarni, the uncle of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspects -- the first dead, the other now in custody -- in the Boston Marathon bombings.
Uncle Ruslan. Or, as Twitter users have come to call him, the Chechen Chuck Norris. Were it not for the distance involved, we might have expected him to chase down the suspects himself.
Confronted with a media horde outside his Maryland home Friday morning, Tsarni did what we don't often see: He answered every question, straight from his gut. Asked what he would tell his nephew, 19-year-old Dzhokhar, who was at that moment the subject of an intense manhunt, he spoke in the plain language of indignant fury: "I say Dzhokhar, if you're alive, turn yourself in and ask for forgiveness from the victims, from the injured."
Well, yes, that's exactly what every television viewer of sound mind would have demanded that Dzhokhar do: Reach deep for a shred of decency in your tortured soul and put an end to this.
That the bombings were apparently carried out by young Muslim immigrants -- substantially Americanized, but immigrants just the same -- couldn't have come at a worse time for those working toward immigration reform. The crime effectively brought a halt to all discussion in the Senate -- discussion that, after many fits and starts, seemed to have started bearing fruit.
Now, reminded that Muslim immigrants, like Americans of every religion, ethnicity and ideological persuasion, can harbor malevolent potential, some lawmakers have pulled back. "How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Friday, "are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?"
Fair enough. Look again at the bill's provisions for security. But Grassley and others would do well to also look at immigrants like Tsarni, whose outrage rang with a rare, frank authenticity.
"I teach my children ... this (country) is the ideal micro-world in the entire world," said Tsarni, a 42-year-old attorney. "I respect this country, I love this country, this country which gives (everybody) a chance ... to be treated as a human being."
Were his nephews Islamic terrorists? No, said the uncle, they were "losers" who were simply envious of those who have been able to "settle themselves" in this country. The bombing had nothing to do with Chechnya, he said, but it had brought shame to ethnic Chechens like himself. Hold individuals accountable, he seemed to say, not entire groups.
The strident honesty of the moment was the opposite of what we have come to expect of these driveway press conferences. Why weren't celebrity attorneys like Mark Geragos or Alan Dershowitz shepherding things in a more profitable direction? Where was the terse written statement?
Time will tell if the uncle is correct about his nephews' motives, but his broken, unscripted eloquence spoke volumes about Tsarni himself -- and, by extension, those who share his somewhat precarious place in our society: The U.S. is full of hardworking and patriotic immigrants who want nothing more than to become part of the fabric of America. The bombing was a tragedy for the people of Boston, but the finger-pointing aftermath could be an entirely different sort of tragedy for many who long for the same opportunity that Ruslan Tsarni seems to have seized.
Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at firstname.lastname@example.org.