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May 1, 2013

Syria Serves Up Rebel “Terrorists” to Western Journalists. Q is: How to Shoot Them?

Syrian Prisoners Bruce NYT

I wonder if it what we had on the NYT front page last Thursday was a standoff between heavy-handed state propaganda and high-level photojournalism. These six images, shot by NOOR’s Andrea Bruce, depict Syrian rebels offered up to the photo media as enemies of the state. The images accompany the lead article representing a campaign by the Syrian government to turn the sentiments of the West to its side.

And front-and-center in this campaign are these anti-government Syrian rebels.

If you read the article, you’ll see how unabashed the Syrians (the “last real secular state in the Arab world”) want you thinking al-Qaeda. It’s pretty much a knee-jerk reaction by now. Offer up a collection of Islamic men looking scruffy, a little diffident (there’s always one with a wild beard), and what does it conjure? Yes, the baddest of the bad: the 9/11 hijackers.


But then, how do these photos resist that narrative? Well, I’m not saying it wasn’t subtle, but several effects are worth noting. If they were taken under pretty restrictive shooting conditions — the prisoners “shuffled into a dimly lighted courtyard (blindfolded), each clutching the shirt of the man in front of him,” the men brainwashed to spout propaganda, as described, the quality of the photos are impressive. Many of the images feel a lot more like portraiture though the reference snapshots or mug shots. It seems Bruce also drew out several men just enough, at least, to represent an individual (either willing to look or under duress) more than a stereotyped “evil doer.”

And then, there is another visual note here working against the Syrian propaganda agenda partly accentuated by those vertically-striped shirts. The look of that baldheaded, sallow-faced man bottom right with the prominent nose, in particular, conjures up a concentration camp prisoner. I’m not sure how conscious Bruce was of that but the effect, but it’s enough to make you wonder who is really doing the terrorizing here.

Additional images/captions/NYT gallery here.

(photo group 1: Andrea Bruce/NOOR for the NYT; photo group 2: Getty Images. caption: The nineteen hijackers who were on, from top left, American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93, and United Airlines Flight 175.)

  • gasho

    The hearts and minds are truly won with tactics like these. They persuade us, perhaps through confusion, perhaps not. Associations do get made from photos like these and people do take sides and there is a war at stake (but would we be invading and causing harm, or bringing a civil war to an end)? More important than a war, even, are the policies and beliefs that drive us to war — interventionism vs. isolationism; islamophobia; the idea of our being global cops; that chemical weapons/weapons of mass destruction red line in the sand; global resource confiscation, world domination.

    Let us stop when we feel these forces at work. Let us stop and express a wish for love. Let us ask for love for ourselves, our families, our communities, the people throughout our land, the people in all lands, the people everywhere, all animals, the environment, everything everywhere. May all beings be happy and at ease. May all beings work to bring an end to suffering and cultivate the causes for joy and well being. Now, go make one change in your life that will have a positive impact on something – anything at all. That’s one way to react to this kind of blinding propaganda.

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