November 15, 2005

Vested Interest




I first saw the images of the Amman suicide bomber described as a "fashion show" on a right wing blog.  Then, the Washington Post story on Tuesday described Sajida al-Rishawi as "modeling" the suicide vest.

Like many others, my first reaction was: How could this woman still be wearing this apparatus on Wednesday, when the bombing was Sunday?  The most likely explanation, of course, was that she was made to "model" it for the cameras.  And, unless she only had one set of clothes with her then and since (which is a possibility), it seems the Jordanian police had her model her party coat as well.

What Ms. Rishawi did was utterly deplorable.  To walk into a Jordanian and Palestinian wedding party filled with families and children the way she did — that’s insanity.  Still, I think these images also represent an extreme form of propaganda, and I wonder whether they might actually be counterproductive in helping quell additional acts. 

(There are dozens of political issues this brings up. The largest one,
of course, is whether this bombing is ultimately neocon blow-back for
Bush and Cheney’s adventurist war.

The first day story on Ms. Rishawi played up the fact one of her
brother was a "senior aide" to the all purpose Iraq villain, Abu Musab
al-Zarqawi. The second day story, however, detailed the fact that Ms.
Rishawi, a former resident of Fallujah, was radicalized as the result
of the American evisceration of her city and the loss of two brothers
and two other relatives to U.S. forces in Anbar Province. (News is, by
the way, that one of the other bombers, Safah Muhammad Ali, allegedly
had been grabbed up in a sweep by American forces during the Fallujah
campaign in November 2004 and held for two weeks before judged harmless
and released. …As we know, Iraqi men tend to find that kind of
experience just a little humiliating.)

However, any number of blogs can effectively sift the politics.
Instead, I’d like to stick as closely as possible to the photos and
their dynamics. As such, here are a few of my questions:

1.  If the point of the attack, as the Sunday NYT Week In Review
suggests, was to sow fear and mayhem, doesn’t the widespread
distribution of these images only propagate — or even constitute —
its "success"? Also, by putting Ms. Rishawi on display on world wide
television, doesn’t it mimic, reinforce and ultimately legitimize the
same kind of grandstanding technique used by terrorist organizations,
and water down the argument that civil societies operate according to
higher moral standards?

2. What are the implications of exhibiting such close up images
of a constructed suicide vest? My sense is that such an instructive
look has rarely occurred this widely with such detail. Doesn’t
divorcing the head from the torso give these shots the sense of a
do-it-yourself tutorial?

3.  According to a WAPO story,
Jordanians (ironically, only men were quoted) were shocked that a woman
was involved in such an act. In contrast to the Arab reaction, do you
think the American audience will find this image novel because it
depicts a woman bomber, or because it shows a live bomber? 

4. Does the fact Ms. Rishawi has been dressed up and required to
pose/expose herself (by what we can assume is a male police authority)
represent an act of subjugation by Arab men over their women?

5. Pardon the callousness, but wouldn’t this have been "just another
suicide attack" if Ms. Rishawi hadn’t participated, or if she hadn’t
survived?" Given the fact, is it suspicious at all that Ms. Rishawi did

6. As a portrait, is it possible to infer anything regarding
Ms. Rishawi’s mental state or the way she’s been required to pose? (You
might want to refer to this enlargement
at the site.) I’m really struck by her facial expression. I
guess I wonder if that intense stare and look of foreboding expression
was coerced to make her seem that much more menacing. I didn’t see the
video, but the image doesn’t really conform to the other outtakes in
which she seems more traumatized and specifically avoids eye contact.)

How else do you read these photos?

(image 1,2 & 3: AP Photo/Jordanian TV. Sunday November 13, 2005.  Jordan.  Via YahooNews)

Post By

Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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