In the news today…
Today I reacted quite strongly to a photograph from AFP on the BBC news website.
The article is about Egypt and if you scroll down to the picture of the children I wonder if you’ll see what I see.
Someone, presumably the parent of the children, has encouraged the children to stand, in support of army rule, by symbolically holding army boots on their heads.
It immediately sent a cultural reference through my mind,
Under the jackboot.
Dictionary definitions for jack boot include: (1) A person who uses bullying tactics, especially to force compliance. (2) The spirit sustaining and motivating a militaristic, highly aggressive, or totalitarian regime or system.
As it turns out several people I asked were not familiar with this phrase. Which led me to wonder about the message this image portrays.
My initial impression from the photograph alone was that these children were expressing their oppression by the army. However, the photograph was accompanied by a caption that said that the children were showing their support for the army.
Hmmm… I still couldn’t see it. How could being stomped on by the army lead to a fulfillment of the rallying cry of the January 25th revolution in 2011- Bread, Freedom and Dignity?
Obviously I was inserting my own cultural reading. I sought out the Egyptian view.
The people I spoke with also found the image very disturbing. There is a division in Egypt at the moment, those for and those against the army. Those against the army have called their opponents, the army supporters ‘slave of the shoes’.
In reaction the supporters of the army, such as the girls pictured, are acting out an Arabic saying را جزمتك علي راسي ( transliteration: ghazmitack ala rhasi) that translates to ‘Your shoes on top of my head.’
Basically what this means is that they are showing loyalty to the army, showing gratitude and respect by putting the army (symbolized by the boots) on their head (as opposed to at their feet) and themselves consequently as low as they can go, ie under the boot, level with the ground. Not slaves but willingly level with the actual ground supporting the army.
Still I can’t get how this is a positive statement by putting yourself lower than a boot, literally underfoot, where is the self respect? It gets worse because apparently the idea that you would put a filthy shoe on your head, even an ordinary one, is culturally disrespectful and far from being seen as a way to show appreciation the phrase جزمتك علي راسي is seen as denigrating to the utterer.
I can’t untangle the psyche of this action but I can think about the photograph and its power. This photograph speaks clearly to me but not in the way it was intended, or does it? Is the photographer for or against the army? Does the photographer know about جزمتك علي راسي Is the photographer Egyptian or foreign? Posting this image to show support or opposition? Does this image prove how upside down things are in Egypt? Does this image show solid support for the army or a populace ground down with nowhere else to turn? I won’t even venture into talking about the children and their future, just to say what a very sad picture this in on so many levels.
UPDATED: I left this post but feel I have to come back to that photo again. Not being able to see the tops of the boots it could almost be that a soldier is standing on the heads of these young girls. Demure and innocent, not smiling or shouting, just quietly supporting, wrapped in the flag of Egypt- They are everything pure and submissive that the Field Marshall, the sunglasses hero posed in front of a lion… that natural animal of Egypt, not, needs to gain control. Passivity, and adoration. Not pesky protesting types who want an open democracy or religious types who might object to hero worship. No, adore the Lion of Egypt, cool and manly, c’mon ladies grow up with me as your leader you know that is what counts, that I can succeed on your compliance.
OK that’s it.
Any thoughts on this image?