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Über dieses Buch

This book considers the ways in which Muslims view the way they are being viewed, not viewed, or incorrectly viewed, by the West. The book underscores a certain “will-to-visibility” whereby Muslims/ Arabs wish just to be “seen” and to be marked as fellow human beings. The author relates the failure to achieve this visibility to a state of desperation that inextricably and symmetrically ties visibility to violence. When Syrian and Palestinian refugees recently started refusing to be photographed, they clearly ushered the eventual but inevitable collapse of the image and its final futility. The photograph has been completely emptied of its last remaining possibility of signification.

The book attempts to engage with questions about the ways in which images are perceived within cross cultural contexts. Why and how do people from different cultural backgrounds view the same image in opposing ways; why do cartoon, photographs, and videos become both the cause and target of bloody political violence – as witnessed recently by the deadly attacks against Charlie Hebdo in France and in the swift military response by the US, Jordan, France, and others to videotaped violence by ISIS.



Chapter 1. Introduction

In the Introduction to The Visual Divide, Hatem N. Akil presents a general entry to the themes discussed in the book and attempts to situate the book in the current conversation about the representation of Muslims and Arabs in the media and the contribution that this book can add to the field. The introduction also provides a brief summary of each chapter and an explanation of the research methodology used.

Hatem N. Akil

Chapter 2. Technologies of Seeing

Hatem N. Akil interrogates the use of visual difference as a false dichotomy between Islam and the West. Akil asks what happens when one “sees”? Is visual cognition a mental capacity that one uses to simply see whatever is in the field of vision? Or are there other faculties that are involved in the act of seeing? Akil attempts to tackle the question of whether we unconsciously revert to established cultural frames that tell us the meaning of what we perceive before we even see the thing. Are these frames embedded in optics or ideology? Do they tell us who we are? And who “Others” are? Akil proposes a theoretical framework to the understanding of how the perception of images actually functions within cross-cultural settings.

Hatem N. Akil

Chapter 3. The Sound of the Revolution

In “The Sound of the Revolution,” Hatem N. Akil accounts for scenes and chants at Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the 25 January Egyptian revolution as tools for discovering a mix of technology, language, and rebellion that could be characterized as hybrid, plural, and present. At the center of these states lies the human body as subject to public peril. Akil finds that although a certain hybridity of action and representation was clearly manifested at Tahrir Square, the revolution failed to move towards actualization of plurality and hybridity in its social and ideological space beyond Tahrir Square.

Hatem N. Akil

Chapter 4. Colonial Gaze: Native Bodies

Hatem N. Akil attempts in “Colonial Gaze—Native Bodies” to establish a historical framework for the question of the representation and perception of the image of the Muslim in Western culture by analyzing a state of visual divide where photographic evidence is posited against an ethnographic reality and exemplified in the nineteenth-century French postcards of nude and semi-nude Algerian Muslim women. This act of looking at an image and seeing (or embedding) the opposite of its empirical meaning has been connected to a chain of visual oppositions that place Western superiority as the primary and constantly irreverent (and inconspicuous) subject of the image. These oppositions continue to be witnessed today in the cartoons of Charlie Hebdo and the photographs of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo detainees.

Hatem N. Akil

Chapter 5. The Boy Who Was Killed Twice

In “The Boy Who Was Killed Twice,” Hatem N. Akil deploys the image of Mohamed al-Durra, a fifth grader who was shot dead, on camera, at a crossroads in Gaza, and the ensuing attempts to reinterpret, recreate, falsify, and litigate the meaning of the images of his death in order to propagate certain political doxa. Akil relates the violence against the image, by the image, and despite the image, to a state of Pure War that is steeped in visuality and which transforms the act of seeing into an act of targeting. As such, the video of Mohamed al-Durra itself becomes questionable, not in what it visually communicates but in its very capacity to communicate any reality. Al-Durra becomes accused of staging his own death.

Hatem N. Akil

Chapter 6. The Martyr Takes a Selfie

In “The Martyr Takes a Selfie,” Hatem N. Akil integrates the concept of visuality with that of the human body under peril in order to identify conditions that lead to comparative suffering or a division that views humanity as something other than unitary and of equal value. Akil relates the figures of der Muselmann, Shylock, Othello, the suicide bomber, and others to subvert a narrative that claims that one’s suffering is deeper than another’s or that life could be valued differently depending on the place of your birth, the color of your skin, or the thickness of your accent.

Hatem N. Akil

Chapter 7. Cinematic Terrorism

In “Cinematic Terrorism,” Hatem N. Akil seeks to find ways to theorize the appropriation of cinematic values in the media productions of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Akil’s reading draws upon approaches proposed by Gilles Deleuze to understand whether the Hollywood-style artifice of the ISIS videos reveals a widespread state of global delirium that normalizes conditions of visual and physical violence. Akil observes a final and inevitable evolution of the image, where the image of the Muslim gets completely taken over by evil means of reproduction. ISIS masterfully returns to the West the flipside of its own imagery. By doing so, Cinematic Terrorism obfuscates any meaning for either representation or perception since no one is able to evade this constant state of delirium.

Hatem N. Akil


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