April 20 and April 22: “War is Beautiful”: Discussion with Author David Shields and Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War
Bestselling author David Shields analyzed over a decade’s worth of front-page war photographs from The New York Times and came to a shocking conclusion: the photo-editing process of the “paper of record,” by way of pretty, heroic, and lavishly aesthetic image selection, pulls the wool over the eyes of its readers. In his book, Shields forces us to face not only the the media’s complicity in dubious and catastrophic military campaigns but our own as well.
This powerful media mouthpiece, the mighty Times, far from being a check on governmental power, is in reality a massive amplifier for its dark forces by virtue of the way it aestheticizes warfare. Anyone baffled by the willful American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan can’t help but see in this book how eagerly and invariably the Times led the way in making the case for these wars through the manipulation of its visuals. Shields forces the reader to weigh the consequences of our own passivity in the face of these images’ opiatic numbing. The photographs gathered in War Is Beautiful, often beautiful and always artful, are filters of reality rather than the documentary journalism they purport to be.
Register here. This event is cosponsored by the Graduate Program in International Affairs, The Vera List Center for Art and Politics and the Julien J Studley Graduate Program in International Affairs.
Robin Yassin-Kassab writes for The Guardian, Al Jazeera English, Foreign Policy, The National , The New Arab, the Daily Beast, Newsweek Middle East, and Guernica, among other publications. He is the author of the novel The Road from Damascus and a contributor to the anthology Syria Speaks: Art and Culture from the Frontline. He is a co-editor of the blog PULSE and a former co-editor of the journal Critical Muslim.
Leila Al-Shami is a blogger and activist who has worked with the human rights movement and civil society organizations in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. She is a founding member of Tahrir-ICN, a network that connects anti-authoritarian struggles across the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. In this essay she explains why she and Robin wrote Burning Country.