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Displaying the Contemporary Other. How has Photography Been Used to Reinforce Stereotypes and Demonize the Islamic Faith during the Fight Against Terror?

Term Paper 2016 20 Pages

Art - Photography and Film

Excerpt

“For Europe, Islam became a lasting trauma”[1]

S. Edward, Orienttalism. pg. 59

So Said Said, almost forty years ago, yet it could not be more true today. With the developments of radical and terrorist organisations such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda and, more recently, Islamic State, photography has been at the forefront of representing the large number of conflicts within the Middle East. This has lead to the Western world coming under increasing threat of terrorist attacks from a number of radicalized Islamist organisations[2], such that there seems to be a developing feeling of ‘them’ vs. ‘us’ forming in Western society.

Within this essay I will underline and explore the notion of terrorists as the ‘the contemporary other’; furthermore I will elaborate on what is meant by this terminology. The question I will be discussing is how the West has represented the ‘contemporary other’ through photography, and inquiring into the effects this has had on the way we shape, see and understand fundamentalists and, by implication, Islam. I will question how this has strengthened, or even given credit to, stereotypes that demonise the Islamic Faith. Using John Tagg’s theory of the ‘double movement’ to display how photography can reinforce preconceptions and help to reinforce stereotypes. Furthermore, I will explore the ways in which multiple platforms have represented Islamist organisations, and what impact this may have had on the way in which we perceive those who follow Islamic beliefs, stating how this may be linked to increases in Islamophobia within the West.

Orhun defines Islamophobia as “fear or suspicion of Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them”[3]. The use of Islamophobia within the context of this paper is the strong dislike, fear, irrational distrust and segregation of those who practice (or appear to practice) the Islamic faith.[4] Islamophobia is comparable to other prejudices based on religion and/or race, such as Anti-Semitism. Said himself observes that there has been a revival in the canonical ‘orientalist’ ideas towards those who practice the Islamic faith[5]. It is the frighteningly widespread acceptance of prejudice and stereotyping that makes this question important today.

When writing on a sensitive issue, such as terrorism, it is important to note that I do not wish condone the actions of terrorists. Nor do I feel that myself capable, within the confinements of this essay, of discussing the political complexities of foreign retaliations and warfare which has occurred through the last two decades. However, I do which to create a discourse on how a wealth of Photographs has been used to demonise the Islamic faith and reinforce false stereotypes, resulting in the categorization of an entire religion.

Framing the Contemporary Other

‘The other’ is a complicated concept which has plagued academic and human history’s efforts to define it.[6] We are able to create meaning and understanding in disenfranchising and creating oppositions, so that we create ‘the other’ through an understanding of the self[7]. Kenaan describes this as so; are you not an ‘I’ (i.e. an individual) and I an ‘I’ simply for the fact that we are born into different circumstance, different geographical location, different financial situations and that we have thought that we may not always see eye to eye on.[8] Therefore Kenaan forms the viewpoint that we are all ‘others’ to one-another in a sense, in Derrida’s terminology we are ‘other’ all together[9]. Otherness is created through two key factors; the concept of the strange or (stranger)[10] and difference. To summarise, you can describe ‘the other’ as a person or group of people that appear different from the self or the collective, which are often grouped into categories such as; class, sexuality, gender, race and religion[11]. For instance, Weston society is often seen as culturally and politically different to Eastern societies, as each of governed differently and hold different cultural rituals.

The ‘other’ is often spoken within a Western construction where the other is often seen in terms of a collective society, There is a ‘Us’ and a ‘Them’, ‘them’ often displaying otherness as cultural and social difference and forming large social formations such as social class systems and race. The ‘other’ is seen as the foreign and the unknown[12] ; in this instance ‘the other’ is often contextualised within Western thought,[13] Europe and western civilisation has a history of representing and segregating different races and cultures, creating the sense of superiority which justifies the divisions between ‘them’ and ‘us’. With this in mind ‘The contemporary other’, within a western context, can be seen as terrorist organisations, due to the threat they pose up on ‘our’ safety and how ‘they’ contrast ‘our’ way of life, holding different social and political values to the Western societies. More precisely, today’s ‘other’ are fundamentalist Islamist organisations that tend to use violence and terror to achieve their goals, protest against Western values and obtain power.

During the British Colonial Empire, a division of people through difference and racial categorisation was heavily used to justify colonial rule[14]. Edward Said comments on the use of ‘othernesses’ throughout Imperialism in Orientalism. It was in this book that he discussed the power of Western representation of the East during the colonisation of the world’s Eastern hemisphere by Europe.[15] [i] Said states that “Orientalism can be dicussed and analysed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient” he late to goes on to discuss that what he means by “dealing with the orient” refers to commenting, teaching and ruling over it, and that ‘Orientalism’ enabled the West to dominate over the Orient.[16] The growth of the British Empire saw the vast popularity and fascination with the ‘other’ and the difference in culture. With this came a rise of, what Said calls ‘Orientalism’, and artistic representations of the east. It is widely believed that Imperialism was achieved through racism, dehumanising and categorizing Africans, Asians, Arabs along with many other races and religions[17], furthermore it was reinforced by scientific and academic figures in the second half of the ninetieth century. ‘Orientalism’ made it easier to justify British rule and the violence used against those who did not fit in to the Western understanding of normality.[18] It is this imperial frame work that leads to the conclusion of today’s ‘contemporary other’, largely due to way the ‘other’ was viewed by the Western gaze as inferior, and to how those in position power represented them.

‘Orientalism’ displays how creating a strong sense of the ‘other’ can lead to gross misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the ‘other’ along with a widespread acceptance of stereotyping and how this form of manipulation could be used to justify the actions of governing powers in the west[19]. Today it is less acceptable to categorize and stereotype large groups of people due to racial or cultural heritage.[20] Arguably, this could be due to mass (cultural) Globalisation and cultural integration creating a wider understanding of other cultures and beliefs. This being said, there still seems to be a strong hostility to Islamic faiths. Said suggests that this may be due to “intense focus” from mainstream media.[21] I feel that the growing acceptance of highly exaggerated stereotyping is partly due to the representation of the ‘contemporary other’, and how this affects the “Western Consciousness”.[22] I believe that the way in which we represent Islam’s role in terrorism upon western society has produced a lack of understanding, knowledge and acceptance of the Islamic faith, thus creating a rise in Islamophobia. In forming a ‘enemy’ out of Islamic fundamentalists, such as Islamic State and the Taliban, while failing to educate people on the values of Islam and the culture of the Middle East we have developed a fear of Islam as a whole, along with a mass distrust of the unknown, similar to that of the East during Imperialism. Granted the ongoing trouble between the ‘east’ and ‘west’ a fear of terrorism is warranted, however we must be vigilant when depicting the difference between fundamentalist terrorist organisations and those who practise Islam peacefully and who are opposed to violence. The contemporary other may be those fundamentalists imposing fear onto the west, however through gross neglect to inform and obtain understanding, the essence of the Other (in negative form) is mirrored onto the Islamic faith as a whole.

Photography and the reputation of the contemporary other:

“I was glancing through an illustrated magazine. A photograph made me pause”[23] Barthes illustrates the power images have in forcing us to stop momentarily, capturing our attention as spectators. However, we are not simply spectators, but an audience potentially receptive to connotations within the images. Said, along with other postcolonial theorists, illustrates how language, or discourse, is not ‘innocent’, in the sense that it can shape, express and conceal the human experience;[24] in turn it can be used to form stereotypes and racist prejudice through manipulation and a misunderstanding of ‘the other’.[25] The same can be said for photography. Photography is often a seen as a archival tool[26] that produces evidence; however, it produces easily manipulated material that shows part of the truth - a photograph can be far from a natural process that captures pre-excising facts as it involves formal strategies[27] along with a framing and selection process, therefore giving us a small ‘imprint’ of reality.[28] It is this false perception of reality that gives photography a wealth of power in portraying the ‘other’. In recent years it has become apparent that, during times of conflict and political unrest, photography is the one of the key mediums of representation, whether it is for documentation, journalism or artistic representation. This can be very problematic, as the production of images displaying trauma and horror can be used to quicken hatred for the ‘enemy’.[29]

The war (or, more accurately, wars) on terror[30] is possibly the most visually represented conflict to date[31] ; in spite of this there is much debate and comment on how sovereign powers have manipulated our very visibility of war.[32] The question here is not what we can or cannot see of conflicts, but how this affects the way in which perceive and categorize a large group of people. The ‘war on terror’ now encompasses a number of ongoing conflicts with a number of Islamic fundamentalist groups who pose a great terror threat to the West. With a wealth of these conflicts taking place within the Middle East, we must question whether their representation is accurate or, as I would argue, whether it in fact supplies us with misconceptions, leading to a somewhat ‘colonial’ mindset of Islam and the Middle East. Said, in Covering Islam, draws upon the “intense focus” that the Western media has on the Middle Eastern hemisphere[33]. This focus has in turn created, for lack of a better term, an ‘enemy’ for the Western world through sensationalised stereotyping and hostility. I would argue that this is reinforced by the wealth of images made accessible to the Western public, for whom there is a strong set of ideologies attached to visual representation of terrorist organisations. While it may be justifiable to misrepresent those who really do threaten our way of life, the issue arising from this is how those ideologies can spread to a broader spectrum of people. What I mean by this is that, through the negative representation of ‘the contemporary other’, there is a risk of overflow; that ‘we’ reinforce these ideas and beliefs on to the majority of peaceful Muslims who have no affiliation to terrorist organisations.

Bibliography

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Bhabha, Homi K. The Location of Culture. London: Routledge, 1994

Butler, Judith. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2009.

Calia, P. Representing The Other’ Today: Contemporary Photography in the Light of the Postcolonial Debat [online] https://www.upf.edu/forma/_pdf/vol04/forma_vol04_07callia.pdf [Accessed 29th February 2016]

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Maryam Khalid (2011) Gender, orientalism and representations of the ‘Other’ in the War on Terror, Global Change, Peace & Security, 23:1, 15-29. [online] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/14781158.2011.540092 [Accessed 20th April 2016]

Ohlheiser, A. "The Associated Press's New Definition of "Islamist" in Slate Magazine. 2013. [online] http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/04/05/_islamist_definition_changed_in_the_ap_stylebook_two_days_after_illegal.html. [Accessed April 20, 2016]

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Ross, R. “Four men thrown off American Airlines flight because they 'looked too Muslim'” on. The Independent [online] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/four-men-thrown-off-american-airlines-flight-because-they-looked-too-muslim-a6821006.html [accessed 01/04/2016]

Saeed, Amir. "Media, Racism and Islamophobia: The Representation of Islam and Muslims in the Media."Sociology Compass 1, no. 2 (2007): 443-62. [Online] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-9020.2007.00039.x/full [Accessed 12th April 2016]

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[...]


[1] Said, E. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books, 2003. (pg. 59)

[2] Islamist meanin: An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

Ohlheiser, A. "The Associated Press's New Definition of "Islamist" in Slate Magazine. 2013. [online] http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/04/05/_islamist_definition_changed_in_the_ap_stylebook_two_days_after_illegal.html. [Accessed April 20, 2016]

[3] Orhun, Ö. 2005. Countering Islamophobia and discrimination against Muslims. Equal Voices 17: 7–12.

[4] Gardner, R, Karakaşoğlus y , and Luchtenberg, S. "Islamophobia in the Media: A Response from Multicultural Education 1."Intercultural Education 19, no. 2 (2008): 119-36.[online] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14675980801889658 [Accessed April 19, 2016]

[5] Said, E. “preface” in. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How we See the Rest of the World. London: Vintage, 1997.

[6] Capetillo-Ponce, J. "Defining the Other,"Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. 2: Iss. 2,( 2003) Article 18. [online] http://scholarworks.umb.edu/humanarchitecture/vol2/iss2/18/ [assessed on the 11th April 2016]

[7] This is to say that we create meaning of the self by classifying what we are not. Furthermore Meaning emerges out of a process of classification: that is, by giving ‘meaning’ to things we classify them, and in order to be able to classify them we must mark their differences.

Hall, S. “The Spectacle of the other” in, Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. Ed. Hall, S. London: Sage in Association with the Open University,1997.

[8] Kenaan, H. The Ethics of Visuality: Levinas and the Contemporary gaze. London: I.B. Tauris & co. Ltd, 2013.

[9] Derrida, Jacques [trans.: Prenowitz, Eric]: Archive Fever – A Freudian Impression [Mal d’Archive: une impression freudienne]. Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1996.

[10] Bauman, Z. Post modernity and its Discontents. London, Polity Press, 1998

[11] Butler, Judith. “Torture and Ethics of Photography: Thinking with Sontag” in. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2009. (pg. 63-101)

[12] Capetillo-Ponce, J. "Defining the Other,"Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge: Vol. 2: Iss. 2,( 2003) Article 18. [online] http://scholarworks.umb.edu/humanarchitecture/vol2/iss2/18/ [assessed on the 11th April 2016]

[13] Kenaan, H. The Ethics of Visuality: Levinas and the Contemporary gaze. London: I.B. Tauris & co. Ltd, 2013

[14] Imperialism, especially within the second half of the 19th century, was heavily accompanied by racism. It is argued that the de-humazation and categorisation made justifying the British rule undoubtedly easier. This often portraid the British and Europeans as the dominate race.

Johnson, Robert. “Introduction: What was British Imperialism” in, British Imperialism. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. (pg. 1-13)

[15] Said, E. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

[16] Ibid., (Pg. 3)

[17] Johnson, Robert. “Introduction: What was British Imperialism” in, British Imperialism. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. (pg. 1-13)

[18] Ibid.

[19] Said, E. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

[20] Said, E. “Preface” in. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How we See the Rest of the World. London: Vintage, 1997.

[21] Said, E. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How we See the Rest of the World. London: Vintage, 1997.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.

(Pg. 23)

[24] D'Alleva, A. Methods and Theories of Art History. London: Laurence King Publishing, 2005

[25] Said, E. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books, 2003.

[26] Enwezor, O. Archive Fever: Photography between History and the Monument. Stiedl, 2008.

[27] Tagg, J. “The Currency of the Photograph: New Deal Reformism and Documentary Rehoric” in. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. (Pg. 153-183)

[28] Butler, Judith. “Torture and Ethics of Photography: Thinking with Sontag” in. Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? London: Verso, 2009. (pg. 63-101)

[29] Sontag, S. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

[30] The ‘war on terror’ is the term given to the international militarily campaigns fought as part of a “global military, political, legal and ideological struggle” set against those that pose a threat or harm to Western powers.

"War on Terror Law & Legal Definition." On, War on Terror Law & Legal Definition. [ online] http://definitions.uslegal.com/w/war-on-terror/ [Accessed May 01, 2016.]

[31] Sliwinski, S. "Face of Our Wartime 1." Photography and Culture 8, no. 2 (2015): 233-41 [online] http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17514517.2015.1076252 [Accessed February 10, 2016]

[32] Ibid.

[33] Said, E. Covering Islam: How the Media and the Experts Determine How we See the Rest of the World. London: Vintage, 1997.

Details

Pages
20
Year
2016
ISBN (eBook)
9783668357372
ISBN (Book)
9783668357389
File size
1 MB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v345519
Institution / College
University of Westminster
Grade
1st
Tags
orientalist the other photography media arts visual culture war globalization islam images sontag visual analisis

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Title: Displaying the Contemporary Other. How has Photography Been Used to Reinforce Stereotypes and Demonize the Islamic Faith during the Fight Against Terror?