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January 20, 2008

Scaring Up An Analogy?


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In a front page feature on Friday, the NYT detailed how the Pakistani city of Peshawar is slowly falling under the influence of the Taliban.  In the on-line edition, we are offered a stunning fifteen photo slide show, a handful of the images set at this outlying gun market.

This particular photo — running over five columns — appeared in the print edition only.

The caption reads:

A gun market in a tribal area of Pakistan near the Afghan border.  The symbol on the wall is often used to denote a house of worship in many cultures.

So the structure was once a house of worship, but is now a gun bazaar in a region firmly controlled by America’s sworn antagonists.  With that in mind, and because it’s hard for a typical Westerner to view that symbol and not ID a swastika, it sets up an ominous historical analogy for the spreading scourge of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

So the question is, why offer the image in the first place, knowing how it subtlety plays into terror war hysteria?  Is that why this pic was the only one of the set not included on-line?

Peshawar Under Siege (NYT slide show)

Frontier Insurgency Spills Into Peshawar (NYT)

(image: unattributed.  January, 2007.  Pakistan.  via

  • Rafael

    Also knowing full well that a) the swastika is a common cross cultural symbol in the region, b) that Americans would not know that and insert the term “islamofacist” into their mental picture, the NYT distorts what it sees beyond anything useful.

  • jasperjava

    I never noticed the swastika until I read the text.
    This stark black and white photograph of ruins instantly brings to mind images of World War II. If it weren’t for the clothes of the people, you’d think this was a town in Normandy or Belgium in 1944. The swastika adds to that impression.
    If the image had been in color, it wouldn’t have had the same effect.

  • MonsieurGonzo

    the image appears designed to evoke a kind of death march / NAZI slaughterhouse nightmare; the almost ‘Escher-like’ irrational architecture of the place shrouds whatever we may imagine that these people are doing in queasy surrealism. Fritz Lang (Metropolis) used a similar, sacrificial ramp whereby the victims’ souls apparent of an industrial holocaust are subsequently consumed by the gaping maw of a machine room become monster. Perhaps even deeper, we conjure that pitiful ascent of sacrificial purpose apparent of, e.g., pre-Colombian pyramids. imho, the image is so primal, so inherently recognizable to us that we could easily classify it as Jungian = universally symbolic; somehow known to mean this to us, though we cannot rationally explain, “How, and Why?” this is the way we feel about it.
    perhaps i state the obvious when i say that this image has nothing in it (that we recognize) of a gun bazaar. The text caption instructs its reader how to be an image viewer : how you should feel about the image; ie., “deconstruct this image from the Point Of View of The Swastika (and vanishing point apparent) OUTWARD.”
    if, on the other hand, you grab the image whole, subsequently explore it and “discover” the swastika (or perhaps not), you might not imagine an image meaning what the New York Times wants you to see, here. And imho, what they want us to see and feel is a primal-driven, Judeo-Christian fear : Muslims apparent ‘become’ NAZI-like herdsmen of innocent souls to irrational human sacrifice ends…
    …for if any suicide-sacrificed martyr could speak from his grave, he would tell us that his soul was the weapon bought and sold by the devil that day in the Bazaar.

  • tina

    I’m quite sure that building is not and never was a mosque. Also, the “swastika” is a Hindu symbol that ultra orthodox Muslims would be unlikely to use on any house of worship.
    The real story about the Taliban is not really in Peshawer any more (or rather, it’s not new there). It is in Quetta, where the radicalization of the Baloch tribes continues apace, and the formerly peaceful Swat valley, where the fighters involved appear not to be locals.
    But it seems since the 1980s, no reporter can resist Peshawer and the Street of Storytellers, where all the men are handsome, the women are strong, and all the children can take apart and reassemble a Kalashnikov in the dead of night while blindfolded.
    It’s a journalistic no-brainer.

  • GPrimm

    I was mildly surprised to read that this photo was used as a five column spread. Aside from the fact that the image is in B&W, ostensively signifying that it is a “serious” photograph, this picture has nothing going for it.
    In a well-told photo story, this image would be the filler where the story teller says something like, “Oh, here’s a picture of the arms bazaar,” because otherwise it makes no sense to publish this shot, and certainly not as a spread. The fact of the matter is that a picture of this mediocre quality barely merits inclusion in any well-told photo story at all.
    Therefore, one can only conclude that the use of this picture – and the disingenuous caption pointing out the barely discernible swastika – is deliberate, and probably meant to be incendiary.
    The editors at NYT are definitely editing with an attitude.

  • hubris Sonic

    it’s weird but before I noticed the swastika I thought of concentration camps. It’s the concrete and coldness…

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