Archives About Staff BagNews is dedicated to visual politics, media literacy and the analysis of news images.
December 30, 2009

Autumn Leaves

Mutallab photo.jpg
The collection of pictures circulating of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on a school trip to London in ‘03 is making it near impossible for the right-wing to hype his danger. This shot, in particular — not exactly giving “this kid” (as Maddow refers to him) the same vibe as a Zacarias Moussaoui (pic) or Richard Reid (pic) — makes the argument for extra-judicial prosecution almost laughable. (Both Moussaoui and Reid, of course, were tried in U.S. courts and are being housed in U.S. prisons.)
The fact most of those pictures show Abdulmutallab as depressed and forlorn also flies in the face of the right-wing stereotype of jihadist as monsters. On the contrary, they actually amplify the core problem underlying Islamic terrorism, which is the vulnerability and susceptibility of so many disillusioned young Muslims.

(photo: Barcroft Media via Getty Images, 2003, London, England)

  • vicki

    Haven’t we seen our own Salvation Army and other urban ministries exploit the vulnerability and disillusionment of many people to convert? It’s their job, after all. But I guess that’s different.

  • dissector

    this image has a more oldschool fearmongering aspect to it – black youth, lurking/looking suspicious in the bushes. in this context, the black knit hat literally caps the teen criminal stereotype. but this interpretation would seem to support tossing him into the criminal justice system …

  • mon_oeil

    The photographs circulating on the Internet of 17 year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab during a school trip to London in 2003 along with his classmates (whose faces are blurred) reveal the significant influences of a commodified US black popular culture on African male youth, especially hip hop and sports (note the Nike label). Although Abdulmutallab and his colleagues are wealthy, their choice of representation is “US black urban culture” rather than a preppy white dress i.e. Tommy Hilfilger. This choice however is not surprising as a similar choice may be found among middle class male students at Historically Black Universities and Colleges in the United States. This oppositional dress and countenance (disengaged, impenetrable gaze) conjure a hip, cool, modernity that is very appealing to black males within the “African world” whether on the continent or in Europe among African immigrants or European-born of African descent. This global hip hop representation maybe be seen as well in Japan and North Africa among other locations that do not have a visible “black” population–even in the United States, among young wealthy white suburban males. It is specifically when black males represent themselves this way that stereotypes of the overdetermined black male as criminal surface.

  • N

    As someone who went to the same secondary school as Abdulmutallab (though a few years before him), I say to My Eye: nail on head.

  • g

    A similar choice may be found among middle class WHITE, LATINO and ASIAN students at ALL universities and colleges in the United States.
    You’re blind if you think only black kids dress and countenance this way in the US.

  • S

    Does anybody besides me think that shot in the leaves looks like a modeling shot? The bright colors and flattering lights, the fact that the kid himself is naturally very handsome.

  • mon_oeil

    There is no point in becoming belligerent as we are sharing diverse points of view, as the purpose of this activity is to critically engage the subject. Having said that, I am far from blind about the sartorial practices of White, Asian and Latino youth who participate in Hip Hop culture. In fact it is very clear to all who read my post that I noted the visible presence of wealthy white young men in the consumption of Hip Hop. However, my purpose was to highlight the influences of African American culture on African youth. And more particularly I wanted to point out that the overdetermined black male stereotyped as criminal will only be emphasized when wearing this so-called “ghetto” attire, where other males who appropriate black hiphopness will enjoy the hip, cool, urban, modernity that it signifies.
    At any rate, it appears that six years later, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has rejected these Americanisms.

  • mon_oeil

    By the way below are relevant links:
    Images of African Hip Hop:
    Select relevant reading:
    Representin’ the Real: The Participation of White Boys in Hip Hop @

  • Pingback: Michael Shaw: Reading the Pictures: Norway Massacre: What’s in a Headshot? |

  • Pingback: Michael Shaw: Reading the Pictures: Norway Massacre: What’s in a Headshot? «

  • Pingback: | Blog | Reading the Pictures: Norway Massacre: What's in a Headshot?

Refresh Archives

Random Notes