Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Executioner’s Image as a Corpse | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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It is as though it has become a necessary requirement to see images of key players of the political and security arenas after having been killed to truly confirm that they had died!

The defeat of Fatah al Islam would have been inconclusive and the Lebanese army could not have declared its victory after a three-month battle without images of Shaker al Abssi’s (the group’s leader) body appearing first. That image, which was incessantly broadcast on local and satellite television screens served as the decisive evidence at the end of a bloody chapter in Lebanon  notwithstanding the debate that followed the broadcast of the picture. Some were questioning whether it was indeed al Abbsi or if it was another figure from the group’s leadership.

The images of dead people on our screens and in the newspapers rendered into bloody testimonials have become prevalent to the point that it requires extensive discussion.

Undoubtedly, history is replete with images of historical figures at the moment of their execution or following their death.

However, since the world of the image is a fairly new one, we have not yet thoroughly examined the function of such pictures and the role they play in the formation of our consciousness, and consequently, in the formulation of our views and positions with respect to the key issues we experience.

Some examples of images that have not been comprehensively considered are: Shaker al Abssi, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Saddam Hussein’s execution and after it, and the pictures of his sons, Qusay and Uday who were killed during a US army raid. The bodies of Saddam’s sons were mutilated to the point that they had to undergo “facial reconstruction” procedures to allow their pictures to be aired following the public’s reactions to their disfigured bodies.

In the end, what has become firmly entrenched in our minds with regard to personalities such as these is their last image when they died  which is not a fleeting image. If we wanted to recount the biographies of these people or to study the course of their lives, or take an example from them or subject them to examination, we must first dispel the haunting image of their bloodied corpses.

Whatever the positions we held towards violent and cruel figures such as Shaker al Abbsi and many others like him, we must at least come to an agreement that their deaths end the chapter of their lives. In this sense, photographing their bodies and airing the images or footage on a frequent basis has become a violation of sanctity of a dead body, and even of death itself.

However, while such images are regarded as a necessary testimonial to prove that they have indeed died and to reassure their victims, it is also true that these images contribute to their transformation into legends, especially amongst their loved ones and disciples. Even if we had opposed them while they were living, then surely their images as corpses will make their supporters regard them as victims.

Parallel to the images of al Abbsi are ones we cannot help but recall of the wives and children of Fatah al Islam militants leaving the camp a few days before the battles had come to an end. Reviewing our history will reveal that there are whole communities in our societies of the wives and children of figures such as Shaker al Abbsi. They, too, are victims that we need to consider. Broadcasting their dead relatives’ pictures may make them more resilient in withstanding tragedies of this kind.