The Image and Culture

The Itamar massacre: the spectacle of violence – ignored. One would suppose that such an event would have filled the newspapers; if not for the sake of the victims then for the anticipation of what was to come. And yet despite this, the attack on a Jewish family of five has received almost no coverage by the Western media. The question that has circulated since has been why?

In this case what is most disturbing is not the response of those Arabs who celebrated the event, (for I would expect nothing more of them) but the passive attitude of the ‘impartial’ press. Such an attitude as theirs reflects more directly the culture of Islam which places the image of the martyr above all other images. Indeed, it would seem that these photographs alone embody glory within Islam, for neither Allah nor the prophet Mohamed may appear in picture form.

Therefore the martyr receives a singular honour; immortality by the photograph. However, this unbalanced representation of society is not without consequences for photographs both reflect cultural trends and contribute to their promotion. In the case of these pictures, their impact on Palestinian society has had dramatic effect. In the words of David Suissa:

…a Palestinian child can walk to school along a street named after the terrorist Abu Jihad, who planned a bus hijacking that killed 37, spend the day in a school named after Ahmad Yassin, the man who founded Hamas, play soccer in the afternoon in a tournament honoring terrorist Abd Al-Basset Odeh, who killed 31, and end his day at a youth center named after Abu Iyad, who was responsible for killing 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich.

These are the portrayed heroes of Islam; their images adorn the streets of Gaza, taking pride of place among advertisements compelling one to buy. For themselves, they become a type of advertisement for immediately one is aware of what they are looking at (the martyr) and what it leads to (immortality).

Within this immortality there exists a cultish form of celebrity; those who give their lives for the sake of Islam are to be admired for their sacrifice. It is as if Western views of chivalry are mirrored in this medieval ideology; whereas one views the likes of King Arthur and his knights to be the epitome of gallantry, those of the Near East hold the martyr to be as such.

In that respect their modern culture has built itself around these ‘legends’. Their names appear everywhere;  in one case, Dalal Mughrabi, who in 1978 was responsible for perhaps the most lethal terror attack against Israel, is now honoured and immortalized by having the following named for her: elementary schools, a kindergarten, a computer centre, summer camps, football tournaments, a community centre, a sports team, a public square, a street, an election course, an adult education course, a university club, a dance troupe, a military unit, a dormitory in a youth centre, a TV quiz team and a graduation ceremony.



The ultimate conclusion is that this is a society that either lacks any real cultural identity, or has chosen to forget it in favour of promoting a new form of identity for itself. This identity has swallowed up all aspects of Arab existence; outside their own immediate circle the world has come to know them as a problem race, characterised by violence. It is a stereotype, adopted by a segment of Islam, promoted by the media and accepted by the world.

With this, the question of why the Itamar massacre received no attention can now be answered. They are not martyrs for a cause; there is no sacrifice. Rather it is murder, cold and brutal but nothing more than that. By contrast, every Palestinian that dies is by proclamation a martyr for ‘the struggle’. In the same respect that today, anybody can appear on television and claim a right to celebrity; likewise anyone can become a martyr. No effort is required, no promise of commitment is necessary. It is the joke of equality; one can appear on the pantheon stage of celebrity (martyrdom), without discrimination, just as long as one’s life is taken.

Therefore, every Arab death is news; they are statistics in an on-going conflict, proclaimed protagonists in a war. In unison the media reflect the same attitude that the Palestinians have adopted. Of course the biggest losers in this cycle of stereotype are the Palestinians themselves; not content to limit themselves to the idea that death and violence brings glory, they have achieved alienation from humanity; their behaviour accepted as cultural, no condemnation for wrongdoing.   

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  1. #1 by Gen on March 27, 2011 - 7:21 am

    On Sunday morning after the massacre, I woke up thinking about the Fogel’s family and went online to read the news in my native language, French. Only to find that there was no coverage about the massacre. Nothing except a few lines mentioning new constructions authorized by Israeli government as a “revenge” after the murder. Nothing to convey the atrocity of the massacre, the loss that the three surviving children were facing… Thank you for your post. Thank you for the truth you chose to unveil today.

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