This horrific image — a true Urban Semiotic — is making the rounds of the Internets today along with lots of breast-beating and self-immolation over the appropriateness of showing this child killed in a car-bomb explosion in Baquba, Iraq yesterday.  15 people were killed, including seven policemen.  Twenty others were wounded.

There are many websites that provide bloodier images of dead and dying Iraqi children — so why is there so much upset expressed over this image?

It is because the child looks Westernized?

Is because she looks like she’s just sleeping — until you linger a bit longer on her face to see the blood wiped from her nose and mouth?

Is it her angelic, white, swaddling — surrounded by a halo of blood stains — that bubbles the meaning of the Christ Child to the surface of our repressed suffering in the Muslim world?

What’s your take on power of the image? 


  1. Isn’t this similar to the missing white child phenomenon – wherein a white child goes missing and the press goes nuts, and then you find out through underground media that a non-white child also went missing the same day or even the same hour and the MSM ignored it? It seems that this should be just as much of an upsetting image as any of the other hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians that have been killed since the beginning of the war.

  2. That make sense to me, Gordon. The bloodiest and burned children are forgotten while the “ideal beauty” — posed in white linen — grabs the nation’s attentions and gaps for forgiveness.
    It’s an amazing disconnect, really.
    Journalists are not even allowed to film or photograph the caskets of American soldiers — it’s as if what they sacrificed isn’t worth an image on the front page — but nameless children in the land we’re supposed to be building… they’re fair game…

  3. this is a horrific image, David.
    and i can feel how powerful this is. the sight of a young life that has ended brutally, the look on her face that seems to have frozen with the last gasp of life, the bent-over form of the despairing adult in the corner, the fly on her nose. all capture the horror that is war.
    it’s undeniable that the fact that her face resembles the canonical representation of angels and cherubs adds another layer of significance and poignancy to people who’ve been exposed to such art.

  4. I missed the fly on her nose, Dananjay. That is even more haunting. I think your analysis is heartfelt and spot-on — and now I wonder how we got to this place in Iraq. Is this progress? Is this what all our American dead have brought to the freedom movement?
    What if that child were from Ohio or Pennsylvania or Indiana and she were killed by a car bomb in an urban core in one of those states. Would American stand for her death? Would the rest of the world?

  5. David,
    Isn’t the reason that photographs of caskets of American soldiers aren’t allowed to be published that the Bush administration fears that such photographs will fuel public resentment about an unnecessary war?

  6. Yes, that’s precisely it, Dananjay — and that’s also the reason why soldier funerals at Arlington Cemetery are not allowed to be covered by the media.
    So our hero fallen are somehow tainted by the very men who sent them there in the need to want to cover up their deaths — and yet the Baquba Angel is set free to rescue the rest of us in her death with the truth.

  7. This is just horrific.
    A child killed is an absolute crime and whether s/he is black, white, blue, green, polka dotted, checkered – shouldn’t matter much.
    I am tremendously enraged by the image and I think we should seriously stop fighting amongst us.
    If this is a way to tantalize and manipulate “white emotion” – then it is even more obnoxious.
    Shame on us – seriously.

  8. I agree, David. One death like that would’ve been enough to move the public of any sane society to demand that the perpetrators be brought to justice.
    And if it weren’t for the image she’d just be another unnoticed blip in the statistical radar of collateral damage. Just like so many who die fighting on both sides everyday.

  9. I do find it strange that there is so much hand-wringing on so many blogs this morning, Katha, as they worry about showing the image while happily publishing the image. I’m of the mind that if it’s real, then it’s fair game for dissection online and if it helps to stop that sort of horror, then we’re all better off. We can’t keep the truth of this war in the dark any longer.

  10. I’m afraid you’re right, Dananjay. If that were an American child, we’d be out of that war by tomorrow — but since the child is foreign — yet, perhaps culturally familiar — we can ponder the effects of the war without feeling it straight in the heart like that devastated man in the image.

  11. It is a horrific image – filled with lots of subconscious messages – the cherubic innocence – the spotless white dress/covering as well as the halo.
    When I was working with Dropping Knowledge and the Table of Free Voices I asked a question about the value of a life – which got asked of the assembled good and great. The answers were in two definite camps – divided along racial/colored lines. Those that were white said all lives have equal value – even though their governments clearly exhibited differently – and the non – white contributors who knew damned well that they were condemned as second class by the color of their skin.
    What particularly annoyed me enough to ask the question was the reporting of the war casualties during the Iraq war. 20 minutes of reports on 16 UK soldiers injured in a bomb blast which also killed several hundred local citizens who were brushed off in one sentence.
    We need to be exposed to the horrors of war to be reminded of what is done in our name – what we do not need is to be desensitized to the point where it becomes normal and acceptable.

  12. Wonderful comment, Nicola, thanks!
    Yes, it does seem skin color is the arbiter of “reportable taste” when it comes to the major media in determining how the war is being covered. If White soldiers are killed, it’s a “tragedy” — if 300 Iraqis are killed, “that’s the price of war.” It is that terrible and terroristic disconnect that causes so much of the inequality and hatred in the world.
    One day the world will dominated by what are now the minority power — and I wonder what the former majority will think when that switcheroo happens and if the minority power will remember the pain and hurt they felt while under the thumb… or if they will instead finally be freed to wield their newfound power to discriminate and humiliate as payback for centuries of social torture?

  13. I have a horrible feeling they will remember it and pay it back with interest.
    However this is one of the awesome responsibilities that lies on Barack Obama’s shoulders – a lot could depend on how he handles himself and the rest of the world.
    “or if they will instead finally be freed to wield their newfound power to discriminate and humiliate as payback for centuries of social torture?”
    Do you think this is why some people were and are so afraid of Barack Obama?

  14. I think we only need to look to some of the African nations, Nicola, to see how the oppressed minority rules when placed in power: They pick up guns and machetes and they slay their oppressors with a viciousness of generational rage.
    In the USA there were pockets in the South where Whites were terrified that an Obama presidency would mean a “Black Revenge” that would outstrip any notion of “slave reparations.” Having some renegade Black Panthers block some polling places only played into that fear:

    Here’s a fascinating map overlay showing the Deep South and 1860 cotton plantations and the “swath of Blue” democrat votes for Obama in the same region in 2008. Now that, to me a semiotic that cannot be denied: “We still live here in the midst of slavery and the cotton fields since 1860, but now we have the vote; and we’re voting for one of us.”

  15. They are a particularly bloodthirsty lot – however the Balkan nations are equally vindictive. The Serbs and the Croats are a prime example.
    That map says so much.

  16. It is often historical and tribal as well as territorial often to the extent of being similar to natural enemies in the animal world.
    It is hard to move on from hundreds of years of that kind of situation.

  17. Maybe because she looks so Westernized that people have a harder time with the image. It all too easily be one of their own children, brings it a bit closer to home.

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