February 15, 2005

Seethers of Lebanon

While I recover from my Carly Fiorina fixation (a story which I still don’t think I’ve got straight), I thought I would take a look at the visual coverage of the dramatic Rafiq Hariri assassination.  Arafat’s death may have produced a far greater number and variety of posters, but Hariri’s passing seems to have produced some of the largest posters and banners I’ve seen. 

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(By the way, I would love to find some good research explaining why the Mid East is such a hotbed of political iconography.  Is it because, in the face of political suppression, people tout the images of opposition figures as the simplest way to symbolize their disaffection?  Another factor, it seems, is because these figures truly double as cultural heros.)

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Much of the photo coverage shows clusters of people holding identical posters of Hariri.  The analysis speaks of unity and solidarity behind the loss.  Another way to interpret this image, however, is that Hariri was a man of many faces.  Following the massive explosion that killed the former Lebanese premier, the typically single-minded Bush administration was quick to point a menacing finger at Syria.  According to Juan Cole, however, Hariri was a powerful man of mixed loyalties.  A long time ally of Syria, he could have alienated the Syrians when he recently opposed their interference in the Lebanese constitution.  As a Saudi citizen with strong business interests, he would also have been a logical al Qaeda target.  But, with a net worth of over $4 billion and a record of shady dealings both in and out of office, there probably was no end to the various wheelers and dealers who might have had a score to settle.

(images: AFP/Mahmoud Zayat in YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
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