Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 31, 2017

Only Alt-Right Economics Could Create Such a Powerful Muslim Ban Protest Photo

(photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters. caption: People hold signs with the names of people detained and denied entry in protest of Donald Trump's travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California.)

Since Trump took office, protest photos have been literally the rage. There was hardly a break after the Woman’s March, and the March for Life, before protesters streamed to the airports over the Muslim Ban. Reflecting the fervor, the media and social media have been filled with an incredible number of homemade protest signs.

If the signs have been diverse and highly creative, this display at LAX on Saturday was completely unique to me. What we see in the photo are protesters mimicking the ritual of limo drivers announcing their presence to upscale citizens and VIPs. Most signs take aim at a personality, a political position, or a social policy. In this case, the symbolism is economic. And so are the implications.

Of course, the photo is also making a moral argument. Instead of threats or pariahs, these protesters are recognizing Muslims and Muslim immigrants as VIPs in America’s cultural fabric. But then the picture “gets down to business.”

Given how the countries that are or aren’t on the ban list correlate with Trump’s business interests, that is already a financial overtone. More specifically, though, the action illustrates that immigrants are an important asset in our economy. It is the immigrant, in fact, who is typically found holding those customer signs. They are the ones who fill so many menial and monotonous low wage jobs, such as drivers and liveries. And, at the same time, in usual times, they are also those with their names on those signs  They are highly valued engineers, doctors, scientists and artists. And they are the foreign students pursuing those occupations who strengthen our culture by staying or enrich their own countries by returning home.

It is hard to appreciate this photo more fully because business, including immigration and trade policy, is so specialized and politically opaque. Protest signs that challenge emotional or social inhumanity are easy to find and also easy to relate to. What is so unique about this one, though, is how much it challenges the Muslim ban as an economic affront.

(photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Reuters. caption: People hold signs with the names of people detained and denied entry in protest of Donald Trump’s travel ban at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles, California.)

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