This came through to my inbox this week from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. What particularly struck me was the assertion that the graphic and violent images of 9/11 have been stored up and re-emerged in the impromptu triumphal celebrations on the day of Bin Laden’s death. See what you think:
Political expediency it may have been, but Barack Obama’s decision not to release photographs of Osama Bin Laden’s body is a welcome act of national self-censorship that constitutes a significantly counter-cultural move.
Ever since news of the al-Qaeda leader’s killing broke, there has been an inevitable drip-feed of ever more graphic images through the media to the viewing public. Iconic portraits of Bin Laden first gave way to stills of the compound and the abandoned American helicopter, and then to video footage from within the house, including the heavily bloodstained bedroom where Bin Laden was shot dead.
The media are eager to capture such images because it is the image that stimulates and sustains public interest in the story, whether on television or online. It’s the ever-present promise of new pictures that keeps us enthralled. The Internet and a growing superfluity of high-definition, touch-screen devices are constantly reinforcing the lesson television first taught us: seeing is believing. Naturally enough, the corollary is also true: in the absence of images there is doubt, or outright disbelief.
So it is that some believe the US should release photographs of Bin Laden’s corpse by way of providing conclusive proof of his death. Nevertheless, the president has decreed that these very graphic images will not be seen. They have been censored on the grounds that their publication would constitute a threat to US national security. I, for one, am inclined to agree with his decision.
Doubtless, national and political self-interest influenced Obama’s decision, but perhaps we should allow for the possibility that so also did a genuine concern for the global greater good. Since the eye is ‘the lamp of the body’ (Matthew 6:22), and just one look can kill the divine image-bearing people we were made to be (Matthew 5:27-29), we all need to consider carefully the imagery to which we expose ourselves, and to which we expose others. Is it not in all our interests to look on that which will enhance our humanity, and to look away from that which will diminish it?
For proof of the compelling power images can exercise over hearts and minds, look no further than those who, having been inundated this past decade with the traumatic images of 9/11, and of the face of the man behind that atrocity, took to the streets this week to celebrate his killing.
Even in our visual age, there are things we really don’t need to see. Trust me.
It reminds me of the much quoted phrase that one 9/11 survivor said – “I can’t find it in me to be glad that one more person is dead”. Forgiveness really does affect us as well as those we are forgiving.