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18 September 2012

Seeing Is Dismissing?

Everyone needs to read Ways of Seeing: On the Role of Images in "Religious" Violence by A.T. Coates (about whom I can find no biographical information anywhere) on the blog for the Bulletin for the Study of Religion. Here is the meat of it, but it's very much worth your time to check out the entire post:
...While people are happy to blame the protests on a video that upset fundamentalists, practically no one bothers to examine how images work in the lives of the people who have protested. We're left to ponder why anyone would take to the streets over a low-budget Youtube video....

[It's not surprising] that a video (or a cartoon) might contribute to protests or violence. This has nothing to do with the "nature" of Islam. Nor does it have anything to do with clashes between "fundamentalist" and "modern" worldviews. Rather...images play important roles in people's lives.... Even in supposedly "aniconic" traditions like Islam or Protestantism, images are far from trivial.

Images have power.... So it's no wonder that many religious communities try to sequester, circumscribe, ignore, or control images. The wrong kinds of images can cause supernatural harm. Images can lure people away from a "proper" understanding of an abstract, distant, or indescribable deity precisely because they are so powerful....

Images also help to foster collective identities. When we belong to a community, we share ways of seeing certain images.... [Being able to discern images] marks the boundary of the group. Communities that share ways of seeing also share ways of feeling about what they see.... Such shared emotions and experiences aren't trivial. They help to hold communities together....
Yes, a thousand times, yes! Please forward this piece on to every journalist and pundit who fancies himself qualified to weigh in on the protests across the Muslim world.

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