Friday, August 02, 2013

The man and the burning auto

This photo appeared with a post by Will Bunch, Tell me what is being done in my name -- in Benghazi Attytood 08/01/2013. Will isn't some Benghazi! Benghazi!! Benghazi!!! conservative. But I'll get to his topic below.

Seeing that photo reminded me of how the press internationally uses such a photo to represent "revolution." A man - it's usually a man - standing in front of something on fire and his balled fist in the air. In this case holding a rifle. Presumably this one is from Benghazi. But it's not captioned at the post. And I'm not sure it's important.

I get it that's it's a sensational kind of image. Inspiring and scary at the same time, depending on whether you imagine the figure is on Your Side or not.

But it also is an image of revolution as an action movie. Actual revolutions - Egypt, Tunisia - pick from pretty much any of them over the last two centuries usually include some violence in some form. Sometimes a lot of it. A civil war lot of it.

But revolutions are also political events. And like other political events, they involved a lot of patient politicking, organizing meetings, coordinating with others, using all kinds of methods to get the message out, endless infighting with others nominally on Your Side, raising money, getting out the vote, getting out the protesters, mounting legal defenses for those arrested, cultivating reporters, schmoozing with politicians.

There's a famous saying, "War is long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror." Something like that is also true for revolutions, even ones that involve little violence. We could add moments of high excitement and triumph to the moments of terror and hopelessness.

Images like those above give a very truncated, impoverished view of this process.

I'm also struck by how widely such images are associated with revolution or social turmoil that it hardly needs a caption. Yet the bare image doesn't tell us much. Is it in Benghazi or in Pittsburgh? The car behind the man appears to be burning. But why? Is this some local equivalent of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Or is it some minor and forgettable side incident that is part of a larger event? Did the man with the rifle start the fire? And why? Or is it his car and he say it burning and came running out of his house with his rifle to shoot whoever set his car or fire? Is it part of a political event or part of a gang war? Or both?

The main topic of the post itself actually has nothing directly to do with shooting or protesting or burning cars. It has to do with CIA employees being subjected to lie-detector tests to make sure they are not talking about what happened in Benghazi last September when the American consulate there was attacked. Bunch writes:

I don't know about you, but allegations that the CIA is intimidating people to keep quiet gets my back up. It's a point that I've been making here again and again -- that the American government is keeping too many secrets, too afraid to let the public that they allegedly work for know what they're doing. So let's be clear: It's time for people to pick a side. If you support getting to the bottom of what happened at Benghazi, then you support Edward Snowden and his whistleblowing efforts with the NSA. It's not pro-Obama or anti-Obama, or pro-CIA or anti-CIA. You either support greater transparency in government, or you support a runaway national security state.

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