To Publish or Not to Publish

I have never liked seeing horrific images neither real nor imagined. I’ve never liked scary movies or horror films and even Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video used to give me nightmares as a kid. I remember once, my mother dropped my sister and I off at a lady’s house to braid our hair when we very young I think probably less than 8 years old at the time and the woman put on Hellraiser 1, 2, and 3 with Pinhead for all of us to watch, it was a terrible experience on so many levels. I never liked Chucky, Nightmare on Elm Street, Tales from the Crypt, X-files, and didn’t care much for the Goosebumps book series.

On the other hand, I love history, documentaries, nonfiction books, used to be a news junkie, try to keep up to date on current events around the world especially in the oft-overlooked and litte known places. I try to get an understanding of a place and situation from mutiple perspectives and as close to the ground as possible.

There are so many situations past and present that are absolutely horrific, heart wrenching, and devastating in nature. I am a firm believer that our society (meaning human society worldwide) is becoming more coarse and that this is a terrible development.

I was once over at the home of an Iraqi couple that had a satellite dish during the second Iraq war in 2003. And the lady of the house, would come crying over to me to tell me of some of the horrible images she had just seen on one of the Arab satellite news stations. When I was there, I made sure to avert my gaze from the television set not because I didn’t want to know what was happening but as a protection for myself. I gather no benefit from seeing those images, none whatsoever. And I feel harmed mentally and emotionally from seeing them.

Why do I mention all of this? In this age of the easy proliferation of video clips, I have seen more unnecessary disgusting and horrific images than I would ever want to in a lifetime. I’m not talking about images from Ghosts of Rwanda or Srebrenica: A Cry from the Grave (which are must-see documentaries) but news clips and photographs of from conflict zones that show images deliberately intended to stir and inflame the emotions of the viewer through pure sensationalism and shock value.

In some mostly non-western news media and on some blogs, we see horrific images of the Palestinian or Iraqi conflict, what purpose does that serve? I don’t look at those images, I scroll through them quickly with my gaze lowered. Seeing those pictures did not give me a better understanding of the conflict, I did not learn new facts, or gain any new perspective on the situation. The main feeling I get is one of revulsion, not so much for the horrible act itself which caused the death of a soul nor for the perpetrator but for the photojournalist and video journalist, their editors, and those that publish them for others to see.

Showing shocking and disturbing images is a cheap tactic devoid of the skill and ethics of true image journalism. I had the opportunity to watch the murder of former Wall Street journalist Daniel Pearl and the various beheadings of westerners in Iraq but declined to do so. What would I have gained from seeing the horrific and fearful last moments of lives about to expire at the hands of unjust captors? Nothing other than shivers through my body, perhaps a nightmare, and a lifetime of trying to push that image out of my mind.

These images are not edifying, do not spring me to action, do not make me want to delve much further into the motives of the killers, and while I grieve in a general way for lives lost due to injustice, those images did not make the deceased more human to me, in fact the horrific image dehumanized that person, that soul to just a body, a dead and mutilated body.

The real strength of films like Ghosts of Rwanda, Srebrenica: A Cry from the Grave, Road to Guantanamo, Death in Gaza, and One Day in September is not that they eschew or avoid showing graphic images but rather that the use of those images is carefully thought out and adds meaning and depth to the film. The viewer feels an intimate connection with the human beings and the souls that perished, their humanity and our own is reaffirmed, one feels a renewed sense of dedication to value, cherish, and work to preserve life and prevent injustice.

In the raw, shock and awe photos and video, all one feels is repulsed, empty, and rage. Such feelings do not make the viewer want to reaffirm life but to belittle or destroy it because it seems as if life is of little consequence, something easily discarded, something for the masses to consume with their prying eyes over cups of coffee and warm meals from the safety of their own homes.

Some may set out to do something, anything to avenge or get rid of the images and feelings causing such tumult within themselves but how few are those with truly noble intentions? Is it justice they seek, or to improve the lives of their fellow human beings, or just to appease their nafs by also destroying life? Encouraging the pilerafation of such images is harmful to humanity as it devalues the sanctity of human life and when we devalue human life we degrade our own self-worth.


  1. Return of the Pharoah by Zaynab al-Ghazali is her autobiography of her experiences of rebellion, imprisonment, and politically motivated torture in the jails of Nasir’s regime in Egypt.

    The work is a masterpiece and even while relating stories of her imprisonment and torture she does so in an eloquent and tasteful manner such that she reaffirms her humanity and the humanity of the reader despite the graphic details.

  2. I feel the same way. I have horrible memories of watching Night of the Living Dead when I was about 9 or 10–subhanAllah my parents were gone for umrah and our older cousin and grandma were with us, so I couldn’t sleep with them like I usually do so I ended up sleeping with my grandma…it was horrific, I think I got a fever afterwards.
    I think i’m a degree or two higher than you Muslim Apple, I remember I had nightmares from watching Hansel and Gretel. My older brother and cousins told me that since I ate so much candy the witch would bring me to her house and fatten me up. SubhanAllah!

    I remember this summer when Israel went into Lebanon, the news was full of grotesque images and videos, subhanAllah, besides the fact that the pictures were too graphic; it was a question of morality to me–I mean, how can you have that much disrespect for the dead? There are better ways of getting a message across. wa Allahu ta’ala ‘alam.

    And not to mention the recent ordeal of showing the hanging of Saddam Hussein–totally unnecessary.

  3. Ya Amatullah, don’t get me started on my issues with Little Red Riding Hood and the old Scooby-Doo cartoons, every episode had some monster or ghost or something.

    Arabic class next weekend in sha Allah, are you coming with Sahrun and I?

  4. lol, I don’t think we had scooby-doo in Canada :p

    inshaAllah ta’ala, same meeting spot? Since its in the afternoon and we have a lunch break, we can check out some halal joints in the area bi’ithnillah.

  5. More often than not, no news is good news. I don’t care to know most of what the mainstream media thinks worth trumpeting; very little of it affects me, and very little of it can be affected by me.

  6. I agree which is one reason I am a former news junkie, I mean how many times can I hear about Barbaro when hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost or are in danger from natural, political, economic, and social disasters.

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