February 14, 2006



So, Reuters and Moqtada al-Sadr got together for a chat and a few photos in Damascus last Friday.  Do you think they asked the cleric if they could get in his face for this shot?  The caption circulating with the image is also curious.  It reads:

Sadr, a charismatic cleric who led two anti-U.S. uprisings in Iraq, said he seeks to dispel fears by Sunni Arab governments of the rise of Shi’ite political power in the region.

More often than not, these brief descriptions telegraph some overly reductive theme aimed for circulation within the MSM.  From both the copy and the picture, “fear” seems to be an operative word.

If the White House wasn’t so exposed on Iraq, I imagine they would have raised quite a stink over how al-Sadr’s parliamentary voting block was able to help re-install the lackluster Ibrahim Jaafari in the PM post for the next four years.  If anything, it seems al-Sadr is following the Iran model of strong clerics running the show from behind weaker, and more secular politicians.

If Iran’s Ahmadinejad is the “Boogey Man” of the moment, it seems al-Sadr is much more important in terms of America’s immediate fortunes in the Gulf.

BushCo. might chose to lay low and pretend any development in Iraq represents one more stone in the pavement of democracy.  Reuters has its eye on whomever is wearing the biggest and blackest hat.

For my money, I think the more significant pictures last week show the ascending Sadr on a political mission meeting with Arab heads of state.  Apparently, al-Sadr is completing his transformation into a significant political figure, with an opportunistic PR program reflective of a growing media savvy in the Arab and Islamic world.

Reuters, on the other hand, is working a well worn path.  Seed your copy with loaded emotional terms (“anti-U.S. uprisings”; “fears by Sunni Arab governments”), create some ambiguity (and cognitive dissonance) by saying the face  –  the “leader” of the uprisings– is somehow working to dispel these dangers.  Then, blow up a portrait (taken from a normal distance during a conversation you sponsored) so that the intense eyes and now borderless, viral beard hammer the no uncertain commentary that rather than dispell, this unbounded figure only casts spells.

(image: Khaled al-Hariri/Reuters.  February 10, 2006. Damascus.  Via YahooNews.)

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Michael Shaw
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